At least 54 people in Quebec have died over the last 2 weeks due to this current heat wave; the majority were seniors. Summer has hit us hard and although all winter long we look forward to warmer weather, the heat can actually cause harm- especially to the elderly.
Those of us 65 years and older, are more prone to heat stress, commonly referred to as heat stroke because our bodies do not adjust as well to the heat as younger individuals and certain medications may interact with the sun which can cause an adverse reaction.
Heat stroke occurs when we are unable to control our body temperature and our temperature rises very rapidly without being able to cool itself down.
The following are signs and symptoms of heat stroke:
– An extremely high body temperature
– Red, hot, and dry skin (meaning no sweating)
– Throbbing and unbearable headache
Heat exhaustion is another heat-related illness although not life threatening. Heat exhaustion can occur if exposed to high temperatures over several days or by not consuming enough fluids throughout the day.
The following are signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion:
– Muscle cramping
– Tiredness and weakness
– Dizziness and fainting
– Nausea and vomiting
– Pulse rate may be fast or weak
– Breathing may be fast or shallow
– Skin is cool and moist
Dehydration occurs when one’s electrolytes are depleted, one’s body temperature is normal but the heart rate and respiratory rate increases. Often those with dehydration will feel lightheaded especially when standing.
Some ways to safeguard against the perils of too much heat are:
– Drink cool beverages (non-alcoholic)
– Take a cool bath or shower
– Stay in an air-conditioned environment
– Wear light clothing
– Start drinking fluids 30 minutes before going outside
– Do not wait until you are thirsty to start drinking
– Do not drink liquids that contain caffeine, alcohol or large amounts of sugar.
If you are caring for an older individual you can assist them by keeping an eye open for the symptoms or signs of heat stroke or dehydration. If at all possible encourage older folks to remain in an air-conditioned location or provide an electric fan to keep them cool. Most importantly make sure they are drinking enough fluids to keep them hydrated. If they are showing any sign of symptoms, the person can be cooled down by applying wet cool towels or by having a cool bath.
The hot and humid weather is particularly difficult for those who have asthma, emphysema or bronchitis. It is advisable for the elderly and their family members to make sure that they have their medications on hand, they are well hydrated and that the older adults remain in a cool and shaded environment. If leaving the home or an air-conditioned environment, make sure that you bring food/snacks and plenty to drink. Also consider:
– Using a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher
– Drinking lots of water and natural fruit juices
Avoiding going out in the blazing sun or heat when possible
– Going to air conditioned or cool places such as shopping malls, libraries, community centres or a friend’s place
– Keeping lights off or turned down low
– Seeking shade under trees, umbrellas or awnings whenever possible
– Wearing loose, lightweight clothing that covers as much of the body as possible, whenever possible.
Many of us like to take summer holidays and for caregivers, this brings some extra things to consider.
Should you decide to vacation with your older parent, there are some pre planning tips that can make this journey more enjoyable for both of you. Firstly, know what type of holiday would be best for everyone. Extensive touring, outings, or excursions can be tiring for older individuals. There are some senior friendly travel agencies which can also provide guidance for more ‘senior friendly’ destinations.
By Air or Train: If possible, try to set up a direct flight for your parents; call the airline in advance to know what special arrangements must be made. This may include ordering special foods/meals or use of a wheelchair. Some airlines allow companions/aides to travel either at a reduced rate or at no additional cost. I recently flew to San Francisco with my mother and arranging for a wheelchair for her, was especially helpful, as the distances in the airport are long. It also saved us all time getting through security and customs (win- win)!
If taking a vacation does not include your parents, then there are several options to ensure that they will be well taken care of during your absence. If there is an option for another family member to take over for you, then wonderful, as maintaining the older person’s routine as much as possible is recommended. If not, then there are still a few options.
Hiring an agency to provide care is a preferred route for many. If there is an extra bedroom available, a caregiver can move temporarily into the home and sleep there. If there is no private bedroom, then typically the staff remains ‘awake’ overnight. This route is more expensive but may provide necessary peace of mind. Although hiring from an agency is more expensive than hiring privately, there are checks and balances in place, which include coverage and supervision that all bring peace of mind. If this is your preferred route, have the caregiver start a few days early at least for a few hours, so that they can become familiar with your parent’s routine.
Another option chosen by many are short-term stays at retirement residences. Furnished suites are available, with personal care and full meal options as part of the daily rate. Costs start at about $120.00 per night
Alternatively, some choose to book respite stays at Long Term Care facilities. Again full care and meals are provided. The Ontario Ministry rate is $39.34 per day. This option must be booked well in advance and applications are made based on the the older person’s address and Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) office. Regardless of choice of location, make sure that all emergency contact information is provided.
Whether your parents are traveling with you or the decision is that they remain at home, it is important that you plan ahead to make sure all arrangements are in place.