Practical Tips for Caregivers: Helping seniors keep their cool

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It seems as though every summer hideous news reports detail the deaths of seniors who have succumbed to  particularly warm weather.  Why them? You wonder. Aren’t the rest of us hot, too?  Well, yes, but seniors may face special challenges:

  • Various chronic illnesses—commonly heart, lung, or kidney disease—may make seniors physically more susceptible to soaring temperatures.
  • The combination of sweat glands becoming less efficient with age and seniors' ubiquitous salt-restricted diets mean one way or another nature’s personal central AC system is undermined.
  • Seniors literally may not know they are too hot (decreased blood circulation keeps them feeling cool) so they overdress and then overheat.
  • Lack of air-conditioning or an inability to get somewhere cooler (including just sitting on the front step) may trap them in the heat.

So how can you help?

  • Listen to the weather forecast. Pay close attention to local weather reports,  so that you can anticipate potential problems—then check in to make sure they are taking care of themselves.
  • Keep their home cool. If possible, install air-conditioners (often seniors who have relied on window units can no longer manage to install them themselves). Fans are a good alternative. Make sure windows open and shut easily, to capture refreshing breezes—especially at night.
  • Expand their wardrobe. Make sure they have cool, light-colored clothes made of natural fabrics like cotton.
  • Encourage hydration. Encourage them to constantly be sipping water, fruit juices, vegetable juices, and other hydrating liquids—and keep them away from caffeine and alcohol.
  • Be on the lookout for symptoms of heat stroke. Seek emergency medical care if you see any of these symptoms: dizziness, thirst, lack of coordination, confusion, lack of perspiration despite the heat, a strong, rapid pulse (or, ironically, a slow weak pulse).

Bottom line: warm weather may require extra vigilance on the part of caregivers—but as in many things, a little preparation can forestall a serious problem.