Community Blog

Signs of a Heatstroke in Seniors

By Vicki and Brian Day

Summer seems like a great time for your aging parent to get outdoors and get involved with yardwork or gardening, or just enjoying the sunshine. The skies are clear and the sun is bright, and everything seems great… except for those rising temperatures. Maybe your mother feels a bit flushed as she sits out in the sun for a few hours, catching some rays by the pool. Then maybe she feels a bit nauseated, or a bit weak, or maybe even a bit dizzy. But she plays it off – it’s a nice day! She doesn’t want to ruin it by bringing attention to the fact that she’s feeling a bit under the weather! It will pass.

It may not be until she passes out that you notice that she is having a heatstroke, and by then things are already very serious.

For seniors, regulating body temperature isn’t so easy. Our bodies change as we get older, and differences in the amount of salt in our bodies, a lessening of the effectiveness of our sweat glands, and increasingly poor circulation can all contribute to the body not being able to cool itself off as it should. The signals that should be coming from the brain to tell the body to sweat and cool itself down simply don’t find their way to where they should be going, and the results can be disastrous.

Don’t wait until the senior for which you provide elderly care has a heatstroke to give them the medical care they need. Keep an eye on them when it is hot outside, and be alert for the following symptoms:

  • Shallow breathing – Is your mother breathing like she just ran a marathon, even though she has been sitting still for an hour? Rapid, shallow breathing is a sign that the body is overheated. This happens when one exercises, but it can also happen when one is just simply too hot as well. If your loved one is struggling to breathe correctly, this is a sign that you should take him or her inside for a while, where the air is cooler.
  • No sweating – One would think that the hotter one gets, the more they sweat. Surprisingly, though, one of the hallmarks of heatstroke is a lack of sweating. If the body doesn’t sweat, it can’t cool itself down, which can quickly lead to a heatstroke.
  • Red skin – We’re not talking about a sunburn here. Skin that is red, hot, and dry to the touch is a sign that the body is too hot. Immediate care should be taken to cool it back down, and restore it to a safe temperature.
  • If you notice any of these symptoms, along with dizziness, headache, or other signs of discomfort in your loved one on a hot day, take them inside and try to cool them down immediately. Drinking cool water can help, as can cold compresses and the air conditioning. If your loved one loses consciousness or becomes confused or delirious, though, you should call an ambulance right away.