Help to prevent heatstroke and heat exhaustion in elderly - 19th Nov 2019

Last summer was a hot one, and predictions are looking similar. Elderly are at greater risk of heat stroke or heat exhaustion. What is heat exhaustion and heatstroke? What are the symptoms? How can we help prevent it?

What are the signs of heatstroke and heat exhaustion, how are they different?

Heat exhaustion is often accompanied by dehydration. Signs and symptoms include excessive thirst, confusion, pale skin, profuse sweating, a rapid heart rate, weakness, headaches, nausea and vomiting, muscle cramps and dizziness. Heat exhaustion is something to take seriously as it can progress to heatstroke. Your normal core temperature is 37’c.

How to prevent or help someone experiencing heat exhaustion:

Find a cool and shady place out of heat and sun to rest. Drink plenty of fluids, especially sports drinks to replace lost salt. Avoid caffeine and alcohol. Remove unnecessary or tight clothing. Apply cooling measures such as fans, wet towels to the forehead, etc. If you’re concerned or you notice any progression towards heatstroke, call emergency services right away.

Heatstroke often occurs as a progression from milder heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion. Heatstroke is when the body reaches 40’c. Common symptoms include confusion, disorientation, nausea, seizures, and sometimes loss of consciousness or coma. People can have a lack of sweating, despite the heat. Red, hot and dry skin and a rapid heartbeat, which may be strong or weak. Heatstroke is a serious condition that requires urgent medical attention and can be fatal. Call emergency services which in New Zealand is 111.

Tips to stay cool and prevent heat exhaustion

Drink plenty of water. They say two litres a day. If you don’t like the taste of water try adding things such as fresh herbs, slices of fruit, lemon juice, etc. Limit alcohol and caffeine. Wear a sun hat and loose-fitting, cool clothing that protects you from the sun. Stay in the shade where you can, especially in the New Zealand sun, and consider taking a sun umbrella where there is no shade (say at the beach).

If you’re recovering from heat exhaustion, avoid hot temperatures and heavy exercise. If you think you or someone you’re with has heat exhaustion and you don’t know what to do or are worried, call emergency services. It’s always better to be on the safe side.

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