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Care Giving and Heat Related Illnesses

According to the American Red Cross excessive heat has caused more deaths then earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, lighting, and tornados combined.  Experts are predicting more frequent and intense heat waves to occur this summer.  In spite of these warnings heat stroke and deaths continue to be on the increase.  Those who are at the greatest risk include the young and the elderly population.  The elderly who have health related issues such as heart and lung conditions and are taking medication are at the greatest risk. 

When individuals are exposed to high humidity and high temperatures are bodies tend to lose water and salts.  This is needed to keep our body to perspire and stay cool. When we lose to much water and salts this can lead to heat cramps.  As caregivers if we don’t address these issues dehydration can lead to heat exhaustion.  Heat exhaustion can then lead to heat stoke, a life threatening condition.  

The Elderly Need More Water
As we age, we tend not be as thirsty. Our fluid balance can be affected by the medications that we take, nourishment, the weather and our overall general health.  While it is always important to stay properly hydrated, in the summer heat it is crucial.  As caregivers it is important to schedule water breaks for those your caring for as you would with their medications. 

How to Prevent Dehydration 
Avoid alcohol and Caffeine, which can cause frequent urination and dehydration
Provide foods that contain high water content
Encourage liquid intake of 6-8 cups of fluid a day

Heat Stroke and Heat Exhaustion
Heat related illnesses occur when there is an unusual increase in the core body temperature.  Some of the early signs of heat related illnesses include muscle cramps, thirst, fatigue and profuse sweating. 

Signs of Heat Exhaustion

  • Heavy sweating
  • Dizziness and lightheadedness
  • Weakness
  • Cold clammy skin
  • Nausea and or Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Dark urine
  • Muscle cramps
  • Fast shallow breathing
  • Weak and rapid pulse

Signs of Heat Stroke

  • Confusion
  • Extreme body temperature (above 103 F)
  • Seizures
  • Fast shallow breathing
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Rapid pulse
  • Skin is red hot and dry (no sweating)
  • Unconsciousness

These are all signs of a heat related illnesses.  Immediately call 911 if a person in your care shows any of these symptoms.  You will need to

Get the person into a cool place
Apply cool wet compresses and cool water
If the person is conscious, give them water

As caregivers it is extremely important to be aware and recognize the early signs and symptoms of heat related illnesses for those you care for.