Staying Cool is Hard to Do

Originally posted on July 31 2023:

Wow it is hot out there! With temperatures in the 30’s, 40’s and in some places, the 60’s, it can be difficult to enjoy ourselves away from the air conditioning. And as we are well aware, not everyone has access to A/C. Summer has hit us hard and although all winter long we look forward to warmer weather, the heat can actually cause harm- especially to the elderly.

Those of us 65 years and older, are more prone to heat stress, commonly referred to as heat stroke because our bodies do not adjust as well to the heat as younger individuals and certain medications may interact with the sun which can cause an adverse reaction.

Heat stroke occurs when we are unable to control our body temperature and our temperature rises very rapidly without being able to cool itself down.

The following are signs and symptoms of heat stroke:

An extremely high body temperature
Red, hot, and dry skin (meaning no sweating)
Throbbing and unbearable headache
Heat exhaustion is another heat-related illness although not life threatening. Heat exhaustion can occur if exposed to high temperatures over several days or by not consuming enough fluids throughout the day.

The following are signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion:

Muscle cramping
Tiredness and weakness
Dizziness and fainting
Nausea and vomiting
Pulse rate may be fast or weak
Breathing may be fast or shallow
Skin is cool and moist
Dehydration occurs when one’s electrolytes are depleted, one’s body temperature is normal but the heart rate and respiratory rate increases. Often those with dehydration will feel lightheaded especially when standing.

Some ways to safeguard against the excessive heat are:

Drink cool beverages (non-alcoholic)
Take a cool bath or shower
Stay in an air-conditioned environment
Wear light clothing
Start drinking fluids 30 minutes before going outside
Do not wait until you are thirsty to start drinking
Do not drink liquids that contain caffeine, alcohol or large amounts of sugar.
If you are caring for an older individual you can assist them by keeping an eye open for the symptoms or signs of heat stroke or dehydration. If at all possible encourage older folks to remain in an air-conditioned location or provide an electric fan to keep them cool. Most importantly make sure they are drinking enough fluids to keep them hydrated. If they are showing any sign of symptoms, the person can be cooled down by applying wet cool towels or by having a cool bath.

The hot and humid weather is particularly difficult for those who have asthma, emphysema or bronchitis. It is advisable for the elderly and their family members to make sure that they have their medications on hand, they are well hydrated and that the older adults remain in a cool and shaded environment. If leaving the home or an air-conditioned environment, make sure that you bring food/snacks and plenty to drink.

Here are some safe summer tips for all to remember:

Use a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher
Drink lots of water and natural fruit juices
Avoid going out in the blazing sun or heat when possible
Go to air conditioned or cool places such as shopping malls, libraries, community centres or a friend’s place
Keep lights off or turned down low
Seek shade under trees, umbrellas or awnings whenever possible
Wear loose, lightweight clothing that covers as much of the body as possible, whenever possible.

Whether to take a holiday can be a difficult decision however, this can be further complicated if you are providing care to family members who rely on your assistance. Should you decide to vacation with your older parent, there are some pre planning tips that can make this journey more enjoyable for both you. Firstly, know what type of holiday would be best for everyone. Extensive touring, outings, or excursions can be tiring for older individuals. There are some senior friendly travel agencies which can also provide guidance for more ‘senior friendly’ destinations.

By Air or Train: If possible, try to set up a direct flight for your parents; call the airline in advance to know what special arrangements must be made. This may include ordering special foods/meals or use of a wheelchair. Some airlines allow companions/aides to travel either at a reduced rate or at no additional cost.

If this holiday does not include your parents, then there are several options to ensure that they will be well taken care of during your absence. If there is an option for another family member to take over for you, then wonderful, as maintaining the older person’s routine as much as possible is recommended.

If not, then there are still a few options.

Hiring an agency to provide care is a preferred route for many. If there is an extra bedroom available, a caregiver can move temporarily into the home and sleep there. If there is no private bedroom, then typically the staff remains ‘awake’ overnight. This route is more expensive but may provide necessary peace of mind. Although hiring from an agency is more expensive than hiring privately, there are checks and balances in place, which include coverage and supervision that all bring peace of mind. If this is your preferred route, have the caregiver start a few days early at least for a few hours, so that they can become familiar with your parent’s routine.

Another option chosen by many are short-term stays at retirement residences. Furnished suites are available, with personal care and full meal options as part of the daily rate.

Whether your parents are traveling with you or the decision is that they remain at home, it is important that you plan ahead to make sure all arrangements are in place.

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