Health and safety tips for scorching summer temperatures

Health and safety tips for scorching summer temperatures

By Kelly Roncace, South Jersey Times

The region recently experienced its first heat wave of the summer, with temperatures soaring into the 90s.

While high heat and humidity can have a dangerous affect on anyone's health, excessive heat can be most dangerous for those 65 years old and older.

Dr. Thomas Cavalieri, dean of the Rowan School of Medicine and a geriatrician, said heat is especially dangerous for people 65 and older because of age-related issues, medications and chronic conditions, which can all add to the danger of hot weather.

"Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are more common in older people because changes that come with age result in older people not being able to adjust to changes in temperature," Cavalieri said. "This is a disorder of thermoregulation. Older people can't adjust to changes in temperature as well as young people."

Certain medications can complicate thermoregulation further and diuretics can cause dehydration.

Cavalieri said there is an average of 10 heat-related deaths in New Jersey every summer.

"Most people who die from heat stroke have an underlying condition such as heart disease, diabetes or prior strokes," he said. 

Many elderly people who are capable of caring for themselves still need to be aware of the symptoms of heat-related illnesses and take measures to prevent complications.

"Drink plenty of fluids," Cavalieri said. 

Many older people need more fluid, but don't sense thirst, according to Cavalieri.

"It's not clear why, but they just don't perceive thirst as well as younger people," he said. "It's a normal age-related change."

Wear appropriate clothing such as light-colored, light-weight, loose-fitting apparel and stay inside between 10 a.m. and 4 to 6 p.m. — the hottest time of the day — "assuming you have proper air conditioning and fans," Cavalieri said.

Dr. Jennifer Caudle, Rowan School of Medicine family physician in the Washington Township office, said, without air conditioning, a fan in a house can actually be hazardous.

"(A fan) can just push around the hot air and make it like an oven inside the house," she said. "The key is air conditioning. Get to a public place — a library, mall, restaurant — someplace to cool off."

Cavalieri said to be aware of the signs of heat-related illness such as dizziness, nausea, rapid heart beat and confusion.

Caudle explained the difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke has to do with a patient's mental status.

"Heat stroke occurs when the body temperature gets around 103 degrees, the skin is hot, red, and could be dry or moist, and they have a mental status change, as in they get confused, dizziness occurs or they could go unconscious," she said. "Mental status is the defining factor of heat stroke. Call 9-1-1 immediately and get the person into a cool area."

Family, friends, neighbors and care-givers should be aware of the risk and check on the elderly twice a day, Cavalieri said. 

"Be sure they have access to fluids and are in a safe environment," he said. "We can diminish the impact of excess temperatures on older people, save lives and avoid unnecessary hospital stays by taking these measures to ensure their well-being."

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Date Published: Thursday, July 10, 2014 - 14:30
Source URL: South Jersey Times