Safe Summer Tips for Vacationing with an Older Family Member

Summer is here which usually means extreme heat and smog alerts which is a concern to many of us in cities across Canada and the States.
Although we look forward to warmer weather to spend time outside with our families, going for walks or even being able to enjoy a glass of lemonade in the backyard, 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
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Red, hot, and dry skin (meaning no sweating)
  • Throbbing and unbearable headache
Heat stroke, if not treated immediately could cause death or permanent disability.
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:
  • Paleness
  • Muscle cramping
  • Tiredness and weakness
  • Dizziness and fainting
  • Headache
  • 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 perils of too much heat are:
  • Drink cool beverages (non-alcoholic)
  • Rest
  • 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.