Summer and dementia are a tricky combination. In dementia, be careful with the danger of hyperthermia (a kind of overheating) almost any summer day. Learn how to avoid the heat and get quick relief.
Now that Li Ming is retired, she likes to work in her garden—even in hot weather. Then last summer, an unusual heat wave hit her area. The temperature was over 100°F, and the humidity was at least 90%. By the third day, her daughter Kim came over because Li Ming sounded confused on the phone. Kim found her mom passed out on the kitchen floor. Li Ming’s large fan wasn’t enough to fight the effect of heat and humidity. She had heat stroke, the most serious form of hyperthermia.
How to Respond
Almost every summer, there is a deadly heat wave in some part of the country. Too much heat is not safe for anyone. It is even riskier for older people and especially for those with a dementia such as Alzheimer’s. It is important to get relief from the heat quickly. If not, one may begin feeling confused or faint. The heart could become stressed and maybe stop beating.
If you suspect someone is suffering from a heat-related illness:
- Get the person out of the heat and into a shady, air-conditioned or other cool place. Urge the person to lie down.
- If you suspect heat stroke, call 911.
- Apply a cold, wet cloth to the wrists, neck, armpits and/or groin. These are places where blood passes close to the surface of the skin, and the cold cloths can help cool the blood.
- Help the individual to bathe or sponge off with cool water.
- If the person can swallow safely, offer fluids such as water or fruit and vegetable juices, but avoid alcohol and caffeine.
- Change in behavior—confusion, being grouchy, acting strangely, or staggering
- Dry flushed skin and a strong rapid pulse or a slow weak pulse
- Body temperature over 104°F
- Not sweating even if it is hot, acting agitated
How Can I Lower My Risk?
Things you can do to lower your risk of heat-related illness:
- Drink plenty of liquids—water, fruit, or vegetable juices. Aim for eight glasses every day. Heat tends to make you lose fluids, so it is very important to remember to keep drinking liquids when it’s hot. Try to stay away from drinks containing alcohol or caffeine. If your doctor has told you to limit your liquids, ask what you should do when it is very hot.
- If you live in a home or apartment without fans or air conditioning, try to keep your house as cool as possible.
- Limit your use of the oven. Cover windows with shades, blinds, or curtains during the hottest part of the day. Open your windows at night.
- If your house is hot, try to spend at least 2 hours during mid-day some place that has air conditioning—for example, go to the shopping mall, movies, library, senior center, or a friend’s house.
- If you need help getting to a cool place, ask a friend or relative. Some Area Agencies on Aging, religious groups, or senior centers provide this service. If necessary, take a taxi or call for senior transportation. Don’t stand outside in the heat waiting for a bus.
- If you have an air conditioner but can’t afford the electric bills, there may be some local resources that can help. The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program is one possible resource.
- Dress for the weather. Some people find natural fabrics such as cotton to be cooler than synthetic fibers. Light-colored clothes feel cooler. Don’t try to exercise or do a lot of activities when it’s hot.
- Avoid crowded places when it’s hot outside. Plan trips during non-rush hour times.
Listen To Weather Reports
If the temperature or humidity is going up or an air pollution alert is in effect, you are at an increased risk for a heat-related illness. Play it safe by checking the weather report before going outside.
What Should I Remember?
Headache, confusion, dizziness, or nausea could be a sign of a heat-related illness. Go to the doctor or an emergency room to find out if you need treatment.
Older people can have a tough time dealing with heat and humidity. The temperature inside or outside does not have to reach 100°F to put them at risk for a heat-related illness.
To keep heat-related illnesses from becoming a dangerous heat stroke, remember to:
- Get out of the sun and into a cool place—air-conditioning is best.
- Drink fluids, but avoid alcohol and caffeine. Water, fruit, or vegetable juices are good choices.
- Shower, bathe, or at least sponge off with cool water.
- Lie down and rest in a cool place.
- Visit your doctor or an emergency room if you don’t cool down quickly.
A Senior Watch
During hot weather, think about making daily visits to older relatives and neighbors. Remind them to drink lots of water or juice. If there is a heat wave, offer to help them go some place cool, such as air-conditioned malls, libraries, or senior centers.
The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) within the Administration for Children and Families in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services helps eligible households pay for home cooling and heating costs. People interested in applying for assistance should contact their local or state LIHEAP agency or go to http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ocs/liheap.
For a free copy of the NIA’s AgePage on hyperthermia, contact the NIA Information Center at 1-800-222-2225.
National Institute on Aging
National Institutes of Health
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services