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 Heat Stroke

For Canadians, summertime means finding ways to spend time in the great outdoors. No one doubts the benefits of fresh air and sunshine, but hot, sunny days pose a risk of heat stroke, particularly for seniors.

What is heat stroke?

Heat stroke occurs when the body can not regulate its temperature. It can develop quickly; internal body temperature can rise as high as 106 degrees in as little as 10 to fifteen minutes. Heat stroke can lead to brain damage and even death.

Why are seniors at greater risk of developing heat stroke?

  • As the body ages, sweat glands which help cool the body become less efficient.  Blood vessels carry less blood to the skin. The skin itself goes through natural changes that may slow the rate of heat release or "cool down".  Older bodies may be slower to respond to heat and therefore may not produce sweat until body temperature is already quite high.
  • Diseases of the lungs, heart and kidneys, and illnesses such as diabetes and high blood pressure can affect the body's ability to cool down. 
  • Medication for depression, motion sickness and high blood pressure also change the body's ability to regulate temperature.

What are the symptoms of heat stroke?

  • Red, hot and dry skin (with no sweating)
  • Heavy sweating together with cold clammy skin
  • Dizziness
  • Throbbing headache
  • Nausea
  • Rapid pulse
  • Confusion
  • Unconsciousness

How can you prevent heat stroke?

  • On extremely hot days, stay indoors in an air-conditioned room.  If there is no air conditioning at home, spend time at a local mall, library or movie theater.
  • Wear a hat when golfing, gardening or hiking.
  • Always have water with you or near by.  Drink 8-12 cups of water daily to maintain hydration, more during hot days or physical exertion. Choose fruit juice or sport drinks if your activity means you'll experience heavy sweating.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine.  Also avoid extremely cold drinks, which can cause stomach cramping.
  • Eat small nutritious meals throughout the day rather than large meals.  Reduce your intake of  protein, which can raise body temperature. Increase intake of potassium-rich foods, e.g., potatoes, apricots, bananas, cantaloupe and broccoli.
  • Take frequent breaks from physical activity.
  • Take a cool shower, bath or sponge bath.

If you see symptoms of heat stroke, seek medical attention immediately. Visit www.ahealthyme.com/topic/heat for an article featuring do's and don'ts on helping someone with symptoms of heat stroke.

Contributed by Lara Colleen Osis

Vol. 3, No. 14

© ElderWise Inc. 2007.

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