Summer is here, offering those of us in the Midwest a chance to get outside and enjoy the weather. But blistering sun and high temperatures can wreak havoc on the body — especially in older adults — resulting in hyperthermia, or overheating.
Hyperthermia can include heat syncope, heat edema, heat cramps and heat exhaustion, according to the National Institute on Aging. Heat syncope is a sudden dizziness when you are active in hot weather. Heat cramps are painful muscle tightening due to overuse in the heat. Heat edema is heat-related swelling in ankles and feet. Heat exhaustion is a warning that your body can no longer keep itself cool. Symptoms include thirst, dizziness, weakness, lack of coordination and nausea that, if not addressed soon, can result in heat stroke, which is potentially deadly.
Heat stroke symptoms include:
- A change in behavior—confusion, agitation, staggering, irritability or acting strangely
- Body temperature over 104°F (40°C)
- Dry, flushed skin and a strong, rapid pulse or a slow, weak pulse
- Not sweating even if it is hot
For hyperthermia, rest in a cool place and get plenty of fluids, except alcohol or caffeine. Put your feet up if you have heat cramps, says NIA.
Prevention is key. Drink water or fruit or vegetable juices. Keep as cool as possible. If you don’t have air conditioning or a fan, limit oven use, and keep shades, blinds and curtains closed during the heat of the day and open windows at night. Cool off with cool water and lie down. If your home is still too hot go to a shopping mall, a movie, library, senior center, cooling center or friend’s home, advises NIA. Ask for a ride, if necessary, from a friend, relative, religious group, senior center, or Area Agency on Aging. Wear light, breathable fabrics and limit outdoor activities and crowded areas.
If you experience hyperthermia and your symptoms don’t improve, seek medical attention.