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Life-Saving Steps for Protecting the Elderly During Heat Waves

In her new book, Should Mom be Left Alone? Should Dad Be Driving?: Your Q & A Companion For Caregiving, aging expert Dr. Linda Rhodes offers the following advice to family members and the general public:

"Older people seldom realize how drastically their brain's thermostat has lost its sensitivity to temperature changes. Complicating this are circulatory problems and medications that can throw an older person's inner thermostat out of whack.

As you age you also lose your ability to sweat, which means you're left without nature's protective cooling system. And to make matters worse, older people also lose their sense of thirst, so that they may not crave a glass of water to cool them down."

Rhodes goes on to warn: "While it is normal for your parents not to feel the heat like they used to, it doesn't mean they can take the heat. We need to view heat waves just like we do warnings about cold spells. Most older people respect warnings about not going out in extreme cold yet seem to happily garden, mow their lawns or walk in ninety-degree heat."

Rhodes advises family members and neighbors to check in on aging relatives during heat waves just like you would during an ice storm. If the temperature stays in the nineties for more than two days, be concerned.

Follow these seven easy life-saving tips from Dr. Rhodes to keep elderly family and friends safe during extreme summer heat.

(1) Make sure they're drinking plenty of fluids (coffee and tea do not count). Suggest drinking bottles of water to help them keep track of their intake.

(2) Get them to use their air conditioning -- if they have it. You'd be surprised at the numbers of older people with air conditioning who keep it off to cut down on their electric bill.

On the other hand, advise them not to sit directly in front of the air conditioner -- their bodies could cool off too much and suffer hypothermia.

(3) If they're using a fan, open a window to create a draft rather than simply circulate hot air in a closed room. It's not uncommon for elderly to keep the windows closed because they are afraid of someone breaking in.

(4) Call or visit twice a day -- if your loved one starts acting confused, has a headache, or is dizzy or nauseous, he or she is showing signs of a heat stroke. Call for immediate medical help. If you can't visit, ask a neighbor to drop by.

(5) If they don't have air conditioning, suggest they spend the day at the local mall. If necessary, take them there along with a few of their friends.

(6) One of the most effective ways to cool down is to take a lukewarm bath.

(7) Suggest that they keep a cool cloth around the back of their neck throughout the day.

ClevelandSeniors.com - the home of health information for seniors and boomers age 50 and over

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