The Vancouver heatwave has seen British Columbia break several temperature records as a nasty heat dome settled over the Pacific Northwest starting in June. With the heat came major discomfort amongst the population, specifically in the ageing population. During June alone, 569 people died from heat exposure, the majority being seniors.
This summer, protecting yourself and your loved ones from heat exhaustion or heat stroke is more important than ever. However, it’s not always that easy to tell when someone is overheating. Here’s how to identify symptoms of heat exhaustion or heat stroke in seniors.
10 Symptoms of Overheating in Seniors
Keeping hydrated is the most important thing you can do during a heatwave, and that cannot be understated. On average, this means eight glasses of water a day in the hot summer months! A great way to keep hydrated is always to make sure your family members always have a bottle or glass of water within arms reach at all times. So, other than monitoring your loved one’s water intake, how else can you tell if mom or dad is feeling dehydrated?
There are several important signs of dehydration throughout this list. They include a dry mouth, fatigue or tiredness, sunken eyes, decreased urination, dark-coloured urination, muscle cramping, dizziness, and feeling lightheaded.
The simplest way to tell if one of your loved ones might be overheating is if they are sweating heavily. In warmer temperatures (especially what we’re experiencing here in Vancouver), it’s easy for anyone to begin to sweat, which can quickly lead to discomfort. While more obvious to identify and likely common across all age groups, don’t take this sign lightly.
To prevent overheating due to sweating, make sure to keep yourself and your loved ones hydrated at all times with plenty of drinking water on hand.
Nausea or Vomiting
Sometimes the heat can lead to immense feelings of discomfort, including nausea and vomiting. The most significant risk that comes with vomiting due to heat discomfort is the risk of further dehydration.
Common remedies for either of these symptoms include drinking clear, cold fluids (such as water or liquids high in electrolytes), steering clear of solid food, avoiding mixing hot and cold foods, and eating smaller portions at a slower pace.
According to MedicineNet, a heat rash occurs when “the skin’s sweat glands are blocked and the sweat produced cannot get to the surface of the skin to evaporate,” causing inflammation. A heat rash can appear as a bunch of red bumps or an irritated area of the skin, causing tiny blisters. Heat rash commonly occurs in the creases of one’s skin when wearing tight clothing, wearing too much clothing, sleeping with heavy blankets, or due to the overapplication of cream.
You can prevent heat rash by wearing fewer layers, loose-fitting clothing, and staying in a cool area. If your loved one is in a care centre, ensure they have enough appropriate hot-weather clothing and that their bedding situation is as comfortable as possible.
Sudden Dizziness, Fainting or Confusion
Sudden dizziness, or heat syncope, can occur when you are active in hot weather, in any capacity, and is another important identifier in overheating amongst seniors.
If you notice a loved one experiencing dizziness, make sure to get them to rest in a cool place with their legs up and drinking lots of fluids. If you notice them becoming increasingly confused, in whatever manner, seek medical help immediately.
Rapid Breathing and Heartbeat
Rapid breathing and heartbeat are common signs of heat tetany. According to the experts at North Shore Health, heat tetany is “usually related to short periods of stress in intense heat environments.” Symptoms include hyperventilation, respiratory problems, numb or tingling feelings, or experiencing muscle spasms.
Living in extreme heat may be a high-stress environment for some seniors. The best thing to do is to remove them or yourself from the warm area and into a cool spot, wherever possible, and practice slow breathing exercises to calm down.
Several other symptoms on this list can trigger a heat-induced headache, as it may accompany dizziness, nausea, fainting, cramps or tightness, or extreme thirst.
A common misconception about heat headaches is that it is not necessarily the temperature that causes them but the body’s response to the heat. A heat-induced headache can be caused by sun glare, high humidity, bright lights, sudden dips in barometric pressure, or dehydration due to the heat. The heat can also negatively affect serotonin levels, leading to a migraine as a response.
To combat a headache, make sure to limit your sun exposure as much as possible. Stay inside, or if outside, wear a hat and sunglasses, and hydrate with lots of water or some electrolytes.
Lack of Coordination
If you notice a loved one struggling with basic tasks or functions, do not take it lightly. A lack of coordination is a common sign of heatstroke, which is considered a medical emergency.
Should this be the case, seek help immediately.
Muscle cramps are an involuntary contraction of a muscle without relaxation afterward. Muscle cramps often occur in the lower body and can cause extreme discomfort in seniors.
If you notice a loved one is favouring one side of their body, limping, or has difficulty walking in the heat, make sure to find a comfortable place in the shade to sit or inside, and massage the affected area with ice to relieve the pain.
High Body Temperature or Very Hot and Red Skin
A high body temperature may sound normal in a heatwave; however, it is a dangerous symptom of heatstroke.
Usually, people can cool themselves down through sweating. But, if you are unable to do so, your body temperature will begin to rise. Symptoms of a high body temperature in seniors include headaches, disorientation or confusion, chest pain, difficulty breathing, convulsions or seizures, vomiting, or a sudden rash. These are all early symptoms of heat discomfort and heat exhaustion.
If you notice your loved one experiencing extreme irritation with a heavy sunburn that is hot to the touch, they may be suffering from heatstroke. A core body temperature of 40 degrees Celsius (104° Fahrenheit)or higher is the main sign of heatstroke. Although, you should monitor anything over 39° C (104° F).
Should you or a loved one record a high body temperature, call 911 immediately.
For more information regarding heat waves in BC, please refer to local or provincial health guidelines.
Here at Lynn Valley Care Centre, we work hard to keep our residents as comfortable and independent as possible – and this applies especially to our heatwave protocols. If you have any questions regarding special safety measures at our facility during the Vancouver heatwave, please feel free to contact us.