By Cecilia Chan
Temperatures are heating up this week, anticipated to reach a sizzling 111 degrees on Friday, according to the National Weather Service.
With the intense heat comes advice on how older adults, which makes up 17 percent of the state’s population, can stay healthy when the mercury passes 100 degrees. Also, not much relief from the heat can be expected this week at night as temperatures are expected to go into the 80s, the weather service reported.
“Older people are more prone to heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke,” said Dr. Moe Bell from the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Phoenix. “We recommend that the elderly avoid spending time outside when it is very hot, especially during the middle of the day. If you get stuck outside in the heat, stay in the shade or use an umbrella. Cover up with lightweight cotton clothes and a hat, drink extra fluids, or wet down.”
From 2006 to 2015, there were almost 1,200 deaths from heat exposure in the state, according to the latest available figures from the Arizona Department of Health Services. Of those deaths among Arizona residents, 38.6 percent occurred in older adults over the age of 65, the health department said. For older adults, it’s indoor heat that’s a major contributor in heat-related deaths. One-third of the deaths in the 2005 heat wave in Arizona happened indoors with 81 percent of the deaths occurring among older adults, according to the health department.
And in 2017 there were 2,557 heat-related emergency department visits and hospitalizations — the bulk of it in June — of which adults 65 and older made up 15.6 percent of the emergency room visits and 29.6 percent of inpatient admissions, the department said.
Older adults don’t adjust as well as younger people to sudden changes in temperature and are more likely to have a chronic medical condition such as diabetes, heart problems and obesity that changes normal body responses to heat, according to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control.
Dr. Bell said older adults are also more likely to take prescription medicines that affect the body’s ability to control its temperature or sweat.
“Although older people need about the same amount of water as younger people, they simply do not get as thirsty,” he said. “And, people with memory problems may forget to drink, and those with mobility issues may have trouble getting water.”
People suffer from heat illness when their bodies become too hot and are no longer able to regulate the temperature. There are several types of heat illness; three of the most common are heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Symptoms of heat cramps are heavy sweating during intense exercise, muscle pain or spasms while heat exhaustion’s symptoms include headache, confusion, cold, pale, clammy skin and nausea. If nothing is done to alleviate that, a person can advance to heat stroke, which includes having a body temperature of 103 degrees or higher, passing out, hot, red, dry or damp skin and a fast, strong pulse.
Untreated heatstroke can quickly damage the brain, heart, kidneys and muscles and increase the risk of serious complications or death.
Tips for older adults to stay healthy in the heat:
• Stay in air-conditioned buildings as much as possible.
• Do not rely on a fan as a main cooling source when it’s really hot outside.
• Drink more water than usual and don’t wait until thirsty to drink.
• If a doctor has limited the amount of fluids or have prescribed water pills, ask about fluid intake during hot weather.
• Don’t use the stove or oven to cook, which increases temperatures.
• Wear loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing.
• Take cool showers or baths to cool down.
• Do not engage in strenuous activities and get plenty of rest.