Former Extension Educator, Family Life
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Sunday, June 26, 2016
As the summer gears up, so do the temperatures, and it is vital that we not only take care of ourselves, but also be mindful of those more vulnerable to the intense heat of summer – children, older adults and those with chronic illnesses.
Heatstroke is clinically defined as when a person's temperature exceeds 104 degrees F and their thermoregulatory mechanism is overwhelmed. Symptoms can include: dizziness, disorientation, agitation, confusion, sluggishness, seizure, hot dry skin that is flushed but not sweaty, loss of consciousness, rapid heartbeat, and hallucinations. When a core body temperature of 107 degrees Fahrenheit or greater is reached then cells are damaged and internal organs begin to shut down – and can rapidly lead to death. We see many heat-related deaths in children due to their being left unattended in hot vehicles. Of the 600+ children that have died since 1998 from being left in a hot vehicle, 54% of them had been "forgotten" by their caregiver as opposed to the 17% that were intentionally left in the car. That's probably why we have seen a rise in public safety messages on this topic like the "Where's Baby? Look Before You Lock" campaign at www.SaferCar.gov/heatstroke Even my U of I Extension colleagues Cara Allen and Chris Enroth in the western part of Illinois put together a summer safety video that can be viewed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mAJDwS02atU&list=PLfg5SywmL9nE9v5yL7og68Ag7e0USJ-LL&index=3
Another population that must be checked on during hotter temperatures is older adults. They also must take more precautions in the heat since their bodies do not adjust as well as younger adults to sudden changes in temperature. They are also more likely to have a chronic medical condition or take prescription medicines that changes normal body responses to heat or impair the body's ability to regulate its temperature.
According to the June 2016 issue of Today's Geriatric Medicine, older adults should follow these recommendations when temperatures reach 90 degrees:
- Turn on the air conditioning or go to an air-conditioned facility such as a shopping mall, grocery store, senior center, movie theater, museum, or library (fans are not adequate.)
- Drink lots of water and other clear drinks that don't contain alcohol or caffeine.
- Take cool showers, baths, or sponge baths.
- Wear lightweight light-colored, loose-fitting clothing. Clothes made of lightweight cotton are a good choice.
- Stay out of the sun and wear a hat if you do go outside.
- Avoid exercise outdoors if the temperature is 90° or higher. Keep exercising but adjust the time to avoid the 90°+ temps. Walk at the mall, cruise the grocery store aisles, or use an indoor swimming pool.
If you suspect someone is suffering from heatstroke or other related conditions like heat exhaustion, have someone call for immediate medical assistance while you begin cooling the affected person by:
- Moving the person to a shaded area.
- Cooling the person rapidly, using whatever methods available. For example, immerse the person in a tub of cool water, place the person in a cool shower, spray the person with cool water from a garden hose, or sponge the person with cool water. Another method would include putting cloths soaked with cool water on their wrists, ankles, armpits and neck to lower their temperature. If you are able to monitor their body temperature, continue your cooling efforts until their temperature drops to between 101° and 102°.
- Giving the person water or sports drinks to consume – don't give them alcohol to drink.
- Getting medical assistance as soon as possible.
Let's all be mindful of the heat this summer, for our own health and safety, and those around us. For more information on families and caregiving contact a University of Illinois Extension family life educator at http://web.extension.illinois.edu/state/staff.cfm?ExtTeamID=6