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NIH Warns About Heat-Related Illness

Older adults are at high risk during summer months

An older man sweating in the sun

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Take precautions to avoid heat stroke this summer.

As the weather turns significantly warmer, older adults are especially vulnerable to heat-related ailments, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is warning.

“As we age,” NIH notes, “our ability to adequately respond to summer heat can become a serious problem. … Hyperthermia can include heat stroke, heat edema (swelling in your ankles and feet when you get hot), heat syncope (sudden dizziness after exercising in the heat), heat cramps and heat exhaustion.”

The National Institute on Aging lists several factors that could increase your risk of hyperthermia. They include:

  • Age-related changes to the skin, such as poor blood circulation and inefficient sweat glands
  • Heart, lung and kidney diseases, as well as any illness that causes general weakness or fever
  • High blood pressure or other conditions that require changes in diet, such as salt-restricted diets
  • Reduced sweating, caused by medications such as diuretics, sedatives, tranquilizers, and certain heart and blood pressure drugs
  • Taking several drugs for various conditions
  • Being substantially overweight or underweight  
  • Drinking alcoholic beverages
  • Being dehydrated

In addition, lifestyle factors are at play, among them hot living quarters, lack of transportation and overdressing.

If you suspect that someone is suffering from a heat-related illness:

  • Call 911
  • Get the person out of the heat and into a shady, air-conditioned or other cool place. Urge them to lie down
  • If the person can swallow safely, offer fluids such as water and fruit or vegetable juices, not alcohol or caffeine
  • Apply a cold, wet cloth to the wrists, neck, armpits and groin
  • Encourage the person to shower, bathe or sponge off with cool water if it is safe to do so

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