August 7, 2009
Keeping the Elderly
Safe during Summer Heat Waves
Care Council of Illinois provides tips for protecting
When temperatures and
humidity rise, Illinois nursing homes go on alert.
Seniors are particularly susceptible to serious health
complications from hot weather, including heat
exhaustion, heatstroke, sunburns and dehydration. The
Health Care Council of Illinois (HCCI), an association
of nursing home professionals, offers valuable tips to
the public on how to keep seniors safe and comfortable
during this summer’s heat wave.
“Many seniors are on medications such as diuretics that
make them more prone to the burning rays of the sun,”
said Susan Duda-Gardiner, director of clinical services
speaking on behalf of HCCI. “Just a short period of time
in the sun can cause some major health complications.”
Based on the expertise nursing home professionals have
gained in serving the elderly, the Health Care Council
of Illinois recommends everyone take the following steps
to protect seniors from extreme heat:
an air conditioner to keep rooms cool. If air
conditioning is unavailable, open windows on opposite
ends of the house or building to cross-ventilate and
increase air flow.
Regularly attend to
individuals who are most at risk for heat-related
illnesses, including elderly with heart, circulatory and
pulmonary conditions. Many medicines, including those
used for heart conditions, depression and allergies,
also can make a person more sensitive to heat stress.
Ensure that seniors are
wearing light-colored, loose-fitting clothing that
allows the body to release heat.
senior should always wear sun block when going outside,
even if for a short period of time. Apply sunscreen
one-half hour before heading outdoors. Not all clothes
protect against sun exposure, so apply sunscreen
liberally to all exposed areas, including under the
sleeves and collar of a shirt or blouse.
Wearing a hat that shades the face and covers the head
is advised when spending time outdoors. Seniors who are
sensitive to the sun should also cover their legs and
refrain from wearing shorts.
Seniors should always
wear their sunglasses outdoors. Remember that the eyes
of a senior take a longer time to adjust from light to
dark. When going indoors, a senior should take off his
or her sunglasses before entering the building to
prevent an accident. It also is a good idea for a senior
to pause for several moments once inside the door, so
that his or her eyes will have time to adjust to the
One of the most important pieces of advice is that
seniors should drink plenty of liquids during the hot
summer months to make up for the loss of fluids due to
sweat. Dehydration is a dangerous problem that can
easily lead to hospitalization and become
life-threatening to an elderly person.
persons age, their sense of thirst decreases and by the
time an elderly person feels thirsty, he or she may
already be dehydrated. Common symptoms of dehydration
include confusion, poor skin elasticity, cracked lips, a
dry mouth and a furrowed tongue.
best form of hydration is drinking water. Stay away from
drinks with caffeine because these beverages dehydrate
the body. Seniors should consider carrying water bottles
with them, such as those used by athletes, while
spending time outdoors. On a regular basis, be sure to
refill this bottle with water or a favorite
non-caffeinated beverage to stay healthy. Seniors should
always check with their physician to ensure that an
increase in fluids is not medically contraindicated.
Sometimes seniors need reminders from family members,
friends and caregivers to help them stay well-hydrated.
Be sure to offer a variety of delicious beverages
throughout the day to protect the health of a loved one,
including offering a full glass of water to a senior
when taking medications.
Additionally, all seniors and their caregivers should be
aware of this season’s very dangerous heat-related
is produced by the loss of normal fluids and salts
in the body and results from exposure to heat,
either indoors or outdoors. Some of the common
symptoms of heat exhaustion include cool, clammy
skin; a body temperature of up to 103 degrees; weak,
rapid pulse; shallow and quiet respirations; and
muscles that may be tense or contracted.
includes keeping the individual quiet, resting in a cool
place and increasing intake of cool, non-alcoholic and
non-caffeinated fluids. Consult a physician immediately
if you believe an elder may be suffering from heat
is a more serious heat-related illness resulting
from direct exposure to high temperatures or the
sun. Heatstroke commonly affects individuals who are
debilitated or fatigued. Symptoms include dizziness,
weakness, nausea, spots before the eyes, ringing in
the ears, bright red dry skin, rapid, strong pulse,
and a body temperature of more than 103 degrees.
may include cooling off the individual, removing
clothing, applying cool cloths, and giving him or her a
sponge bath. Direct the individual to the nearest
hospital emergency room as soon as possible, if you
notice any of these symptoms.
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The Health Care Council of Illinois (HCCI) is a
professional association of more than 600 nursing
facilities committed to quality residential health care
in Illinois through a productive and responsible
partnership between the private and public sectors. HCCI
represents more than 65,000 nursing home professionals
serving more than 52,000 residents.