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By SARAH SHMERLING | Editor-in-Chief
With the summer solstice falling next week, warmer weather has arrived in Pacific Palisades and beyond.
Dr. Damon Raskin, a board-certified practitioner of internal medicine, dove into the warning signs of heat-related illness in seniors, including how to treat it and prevent it from happening.
People over the age of 65 are more prone to heat stress than those who are younger, according to Caregiver. Some reasons for this include not adjusting as well to sudden changes in temperature, being more likely to have a chronic medical condition that changes normal body responses to heat, and being more likely to take prescription medications that impair the body’s ability to regulate its temperature or inhibit perspiration.
“Some older patients are just not recognizing the symptoms,” Raskin explained. “Maybe they’re not quite as thirsty, they don’t recognize their own body’s reaction. Maybe they have other medical conditions that get confused with it.”
Raskin explained that if a person has a caregiver who is familiar with the person being dizzy, they might not think anything of dizziness that could actually be related to heat illness.
Before jumping into care and preventative measures, Raskin first wanted to distinguish the difference between heat exhaustion and heatstroke.
“It’s sort of a continuum where heat exhaustion happens before heatstroke,” he explained. “Heatstroke is a true emergency where you have to call 911; heat exhaustion can be reversed.”
Raskin explained that the symptoms can be different, but in terms of heatstroke, which is the more serious condition, symptoms usually include a severe headache and dizziness.
“People don’t actually sweat despite the heat because it’s sort of beyond what the body can handle,” Raskin said. “You often have core temperatures above 103 degrees, nausea, vomiting and then a change in mental status.”
He said that other symptoms can include seizures and unconsciousness if it goes far enough, and skin can be red and hot.
“Heat exhaustion is a little bit less of symptoms,” he explained, “but similarly, you can get headaches, lightheadedness, muscle cramps … they actually, because it hasn’t progressed to heatstroke, are often sweating. Your body is trying to sweat to reduce the heat, that’s its natural mechanism to do that. Once it becomes heatstroke, your body starts to turn off at that point.”
When it comes to treating heat exhaustion, Raskin recommended moving into a colder place, preferably somewhere with air conditioning.
“If they don’t have air conditioning, go to somewhere that they do,” Raskin said, “or take a cold shower, use cold compresses, drink lots of fluids, remove tight or excessive clothing—those are the common ways to treat heat exhaustion.”
If the symptoms get worse and progress to heatstroke, Raskin said that is the time it becomes an emergency and to call 911.
Some of the ways to prevent heat-related illness, both in seniors and beyond, is to stay inside in a cooler place during hot days, Raskin explained. If a person does go out, make sure to drink plenty of fluids, like water or something with electrolytes (Gatorade, Pedialyte), and wear lighter clothing.
“For some patients, especially if they’re losing a lot of sweat, they should have electrolytes in them,” Raskin said, “like vigorous exercise, those types of things, then it’s beneficial to replace with electrolytes. If you’re just drinking tons and tons of water, sometimes you can develop low sodium, which could also cause problems in older patients as well.”
Raskin suggested sticking to indoor activities, like going to the movies to be in air conditioning, but for those who are still looking to get exercise on a hot day, he recommended going to an indoor mall to walk and make sure there is plenty of access to water if going outside.
“We’re lucky enough to live along the coast where walking along the beach oftentimes it’s a little cooler than, say, in the San Fernando Valley,” Raskin added.
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