With the summer heat in full swing, it is especially important for the elderly to keep themselves hydrated when exposed to the sun.
Senior Helpers, which provides professional caregivers for the elderly so they can stay at home instead of living at a nursing home or an assisted living facility, has 300 franchises in 39 states. The company recently began a program called “Heat Helpers” to assist the elderly during the summer months.
“Nobody wants to admit they can’t deal with extreme heat like they used to,” CEO and co-founder of Senior Helpers Peter Ross said in a prepared statement. “Heat safety has changed. It often takes an extra set of eyes and ears to make sure seniors are doing everything they can to stay protected.”
Senior Helper caregiver Emily Case, a Naples resident, said she takes care of an elderly couple by doing whatever they need her to do.
“I am a companion with the elderly people,” she said.
Since Southwest Florida has reached 90 degree weather, her assistance has included taking extra precautions in making sure they stay hydrated.
Case said whenever they leave the house she always makes sure they have water, along with turning on the air conditioner in the car.
“Make sure you always, always have water,” she said. “Keep a routine, keep hydrated throughout the day because it is only going to get hotter.”
Lee Memorial Health System Medical Director for Disaster Preparedness and Toxicologist Timothy Dougherty said keeping up with fluids is essential during the hotter months.
“I am not talking about ice tea or ice coffee,” he said, due to the drinks causing an individual to urinate more. “You lose more fluids than if you drank straight water or Gatorade.”
Dougherty said elderly patients have difficulty with managing their body temperature due to their age. When you add certain medication into the mix, it may alter their ability to maintain their body temperature even further.
Although people in the northern and inner cities are experiencing extreme temperatures and having a hard time acclimating to the heat, Dougherty said Southwest Florida residents are better prepared for the weather due to their continued experience with the heat.
Even though Floridians may be accustomed to the heat, Dougherty said this is still the time that people can get over-exerted because of the temperatures.
Heat cramps is one condition individuals can experience during the summer when temperatures are high. He said a typical occurrence of heat cramps can occur after exercising in the sun. Side splints or Charlie horses are some of the symptoms of heat cramps.
Dougherty said getting out of the sun and drinking Gatorade, along with some rest is usually enough to cure heat cramp symptoms.
Heat syncope is another condition an individual can experience during hot temperatures. He said heat syncope occurs when an individual is so dehydrated that they pass out. The condition occurs, Dougherty said, when you are standing up, but your blood pressure is too low. Usually drinking fluids helps cure the symptoms.
Heat stroke, which is the most critical condition, happens when there is a change in an individual’s mental status. Dougherty said individuals become very confused because the extreme temperatures are kind of cooking their brain.
Seizures, comas and bizarre behavior are also symptoms someone may encounter when having a heat stroke.
“It is clearly life-threatening and they are going to end up in the intensive care unit,” Dougherty said.
Although individuals may experience some of the symptoms, it does not mean they are heat related.
“I don’t want people to blame it on the heat when they are having symptoms because there could be a lot of other things,” he said.
Dougherty said if the elderly have any concerns they should call their doctor to make sure there is not something more serious going on.
Case said she can help manage how hydrated the couple is that she works with by keeping a close eye on their body and skin to eliminate any heat-related symptoms from occurring. She said when she pinches their skin and it falls back down they are hydrated, but if the skin remains in an upwards position they are dehydrated and need more water.
Although the sun can become intense during the summer months, Case said she still makes sure the couple exercises on a daily basis.
She said they typically go for walks in the morning for at least 15 minutes but for no longer than 30 minutes.
“We don’t go for long walks, just enough to get the body going,” she said.
Dougherty recommends elderly to exercise at the very beginning of the morning or late in the afternoon when the sun is not so hot. Better yet, he said they can walk at the mall where there is air condition.
Dougherty said he would advise individuals to avoid being outdoors between the hours of 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. From 9-11 a.m. and after 4 p.m. are considered to be better hours to be outdoors.
The sun is “not at its peak and you are safe for an extended period of time,” he said about the less intense hours of sunshine.
Food intake also helps maintain the body temperature of elderly.
Lighter meals are prepared for lunch by Case to make sure the couples’ bodies do not work harder to digest their food, therefore increasing their body temperature.
Dougherty, who is also the Cape Coral Hospital emergency department medical director, said over the last year or so they have not seen a huge number of patients visit the emergency room for heat-related symptoms.
The last big volume of patients suffering from heat related symptoms occurred during the building boom.
“A lot of construction workers come in overheated and exhausted,” he said. “We will see the occasional patient that is heat related, but not nearly as bad as it was.”