Helping the elderly beat the heat

BOSTON--As the population ages, a growing number of people become more vulnerable to extreme summer heat. In 2003, a heat wave was blamed for 14,800 deaths in France. The July issue of the Harvard Health Letter offers tips for the elderly to beat this summer's heat. In addition to heading for the air conditioning, staying out of the sun, and wearing loose, light clothes:

Painkillers, for example, can reduce awareness of the heat. Talk to your doctor about your medications if temperatures are climbing, especially if you're not protected by air conditioning. Older people are also more likely than younger folks to be taking medications that cause fluid loss (and therefore dehydration), including some laxatives, furosemide (Lasix) to counteract water retention, and other diuretics for blood pressure control.

Social isolation is a major risk factor for heat-related illness and death.

Thirst declines with age, and older sweat glands don't produce as much sweat as they used to. The sweat that is produced tends to contain more salt, and lack of salt in the body can lead to sudden drops in blood pressure.

Muscle cramps, fatigue, weakness, impaired concentration, confusion, lightheadedness, nausea, labored breathing, chest discomfort, and a rapid or erratic pulse can all be signs of trouble. If you feel ill -- even just a little -- get to a cool place, drink plenty of cool water, and seek medical help if you don't improve promptly.


Contact: Leah Gourley & John Lacey
617 432 0042
Harvard Medical School

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