AlzU Blog

Alzheimer's Caregiver Tips for Avoiding Heat Related Illness

As the summer temperatures begin to climb, so too does the danger of heat exhaustion for seniors-particularly those with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD).  A study at the University of Chicago Medical Center discovered that 40% of all heat-related deaths involved those over 65.  This combination of the inability to cool off, don’t cool off readily, and confusion caused by dementia, makes heat illness a particularly high hazard for those with AD. 

Why the Elderly are More Prone to Heat Related Illness

There are several reasons older adults are more prone to heat related illness than younger folks, including:

  • The elderly don’t adjust as well as young people to sudden changes in temperature
  • Elderly people are more likely to have chronic medical conditions which can contribute to normal body responses to heat
  • Many senior adults take prescription medicines that affect the body’s ability to control its temperature by sweating
  • As the body ages, the ability to notice temperature changes may decrease (particularly for those with AD who have dementia)

Tips for Avoiding Heat Related Illness

If you’re an AD caregiver, here are some quick and easy tips to keep in mind this summer as the weather heats up:

  • Encourage drinking plenty of water and other fluids
  • Offer fruit that is high in water content (such as watermelon and peaches)
  • Keep in mind that even when your loved one doesn’t feel thirsty, he/she should drink plenty of fluids during summer months
  • Avoid offering drinks with high caffeine levels, such as caffeinated tea or coffee
  • Avoid offering alcoholic drinks (which can cause or add to dehydration)
  • Ensure your loved one wears light-weight, loose fitting, light-colored clothing
  • Provide a wide brimmed hat to shield the face from the sun
  • Make sure your loved one dons plenty of sunscreen even on shady days (a sunburn contributes to dehydration and increased body temperature)
  • Avoid being outside during peak afternoon hours when the sun is the hottest
  • If your loved one must go outdoors, keep in mind that before 10 a.m. and after 6 p.m. are the coolest (and safest) hours to be out during the summer
  • Avoid strenuous physical activity when it’s hot out
  • Pay attention not only to the temperature, but the heat index (which includes the humidity level) when planning outdoor activities
  • Keep your loved one in an air-conditioned environment(particularly during the hottest part of the day)
  • Keep in mind that when the humidity level is high, the body is not able to cool itself efficiently
  • Check your local online weather report to find out the temperature and the heat index
  • If your loved one doesn’t have air conditioning, encourage him/her to stay with a family member who does
  • If your loved one starts to get overheated, give plenty of fluids, and a cool shower or bath, and know the warning signs of heat illness
  • Seniors who have no options for indoor air conditioning should consider public places such as a library, movie theater, senior drop-in center, a mall or another public area that is air conditioned to hang out during the day
  • Know the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion and contact emergency medical services whenever necessary

Warning Signs of Heat Related Illness

  • Nausea
  • Dizziness or headache
  • Rapid heartbeat or breathing problems
  • Chest pain or fainting

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