It is not uncommon for Toronto and North York to experience a summer heatwave. Intense heat over a long period of several days to weeks can be detrimental to anyone’s health if they have no access to cool air-conditioned breaks. High heat and stifling humidity mixed in with smog can make life tough for the healthiest of us, but according to Toronto Paramedic Services, it’s the seniors in our community who are the most vulnerable when the mercury rises. Now is a great time to brush up on the basics of how to stay safe, cool and comfortable this summer. If you’re new to senior care, it’s also important to know what warning signs you should be watching for to prevent elders from heading into the danger zone of heat related illness.
Most of us are familiar with the general concept of wearing white, lightweight, breathable clothing when heading outdoors. A light hat with a wide brim will also protect against the sun’s ferocious rays during a High UV Index day. While you won’t need it when you’re outside facing the elements head-on, it is also a good idea to bring a shawl or light sweater with you in case you take refuge in the air conditioned comfort of a restaurant or store. Depending on how hot it is outside, the temperature difference indoors can actually be a good 20-degrees and it’s been proven that dramatic swings in body temperature can lower our natural defenses and therefore, increase the potential of getting sick.
Another potentially serious condition to always be aware of is heat stroke and heat exhaustion, which tend to be the most common negative side-effects of a heatwave. Taking a dip in a cold bath or cold shower can help lower the internal temperature.
Here are some symptoms of heat stroke:
- intense headache
- rapid pulse
- red, hot skin
The symptoms of heat exhaustion are:
- nausea or vomiting
- dark urine (dehydration)
- muscle cramps
- low blood pressure
Dehydration is an on-going issue for many seniors at all times of the year, but it’s a major concern during hot days as it can happen so quickly. If there’s inadequate hydration to begin with, it can be made worse by medication and become downright deadly during a heatwave. Making sure there’s a glass of cool water nearby at all times is the best approach. Signs that dehydration has reached a critical point include wrinkled skin, severe muscle cramping, convulsions, low blood pressure, bloated stomach and faster than normal breathing and pulse rate.
Much like with dehydration risks, the usual cues we’re all used to when we’re overheated tend to be delayed among seniors. It can take them longer to sense a change in their own body temperature and their sweat glands may also be more sluggish so a common signal like sweating may not actually happen until well after a dangerous increase has happened in their internal body temperature.
It’s always a good rule of thumb to frequently check on any elderly family members, friends or neighbours during a heatwave and for caregivers to incorporate these tips into your Alzheimer care and dementia care routines. This is also applicable to anyone who has chronic heart or lung issues and can’t move around easily. Being able to physically change positions so as not to get overheated and be able to move to a cooler spot in the house is an important part of preventing potentially serious illness from scorching weather.
What do you do if there’s no air conditioning?
Accumulative heat can be a real problem when you’re only using fans to keep cool. That’s why during heatwaves, the City of Toronto has a standard protocol to issue heat alerts and open up a variety of public buildings in all areas of the city so that everyone can get some relief from the staggering heat, any time of day or night. Along with those designated community centres and civic centres, your neighbourhood libraries are a great place to cool down in and malls are also a welcome place to beat the heat – and they give you a great opportunity to meet up with some friends and get some exercise with a lengthy stroll while window shopping and people watching!