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How to cope with the heat

Joan Hatem-Roy, Chief Executive Officer

Question: When I was younger, I was an avid sun worshiper because I thought I looked better with a tan. After having several skin cancers, I cut back my time in the sun. Now that I’ve reached my 70s, I find that heat waves leave me feeling wilted. They never bothered me before, so I’m wondering whether something might be wrong with me.

Answer: Medical experts state that as we age, our bodies do not adjust as well to sudden changes in temperature. Most of the country has been experiencing excessively hot weather this summer, so it is vitally important to be aware of how higher temperatures affect you. Heat exhaustion can be a warning that your body cannot keep itself cool.

Doctors report that chronic medical conditions and some prescription medications influence the body’s ability to control its temperature. The federal government’s Ready Campaign website advises people to pay particular attention if they run an extremely high body temperature (above 103 degrees); have red, hot, dry skin without sweating; a strong rapid pulse; or experience dizziness, confusion, or feel faint. These could be signs of heart stroke. In this case, Ready suggests you call 9-1-1 or get the person to a hospital immediately. Cool them down however you can until medical help arrives, but do not give them anything to drink.

Regardless of age, health professionals stress we should use a commonsense approach to dealing with heat. Avoid strenuous exercise and activities; wear a hat with a brim when outside; and choose light-weight clothing (cotton is often cooler than synthetics). Don’t wait to drink until you’re thirsty: stay hydrated by drinking fluids throughout the day. Take cool showers or sponge baths or apply a wet cloth to your skin.

Health expert recommends keeping your home as cool as possible by using fans or air conditioners if you have them. Pull shades or close curtains to keep the sun out during the hottest parts of the day. If your home is very uncomfortable, find a cooler environment. Spend time at your local library, sit on a bench at the mall, or go to the movies. If you have an air-conditioned car, take a drive. Many towns keep their senior or community centers open later to accommodate residents who need relief from severe heat. You can always call our agency if you need assistance.

If your symptoms do not improve, make an appointment with your physician to rule out a medical issue.

Are you struggling to care for an older adult or having difficulty locating resources? Our experienced staff is available to help. Visit us online at www.ESMV.org for more information. You can also call us at 1-800-892-0890 or email ageinfo@esmv.org. Joan Hatem-Roy is the Chief Executive Officer of Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley and North Shore.