I know, I know, this is one of those nuts-and-bolts blog posts that sounds like a snore. You think you know all you need to know and maybe it's just me but each year at about this time when I check what I wrote in the past, there are a bunch of things I've forgotten.
We are still a week away from the first day of summer and already there is a mini-heat wave going on here in the northwest corner of Oregon. Temperatures were in the 90s F yesterday and are threatening to reach that level today.
Then, according to the weather websites, we will have two weeks or so of mid-80s F degrees. This certainly is not as high as it can and does get here and especially in the southern tier of the United States, but it can still be a danger to old people.
So at about this time each year, I post a reminder about how to keep ourselves cool throughout summer and how to know when overheating is a medical emergency that requires immediate attention. Although everyone suffers, extreme heat is more often deadly for elders than younger people.
For example, in France in August of 2003, during an extreme heat wave, 14,802 heat-related deaths occurred, most of them elders. In the U.S., it is estimated that about 370 deaths a year are attributable to heat, half of them elders. Do not take extreme heat lightly.
HOW TO STAY COOL AND SAFE IN HOT WEATHER
Here are the best suggestions for staying cool and safe during extreme hot weather. Yes, I've published these before – pretty much every year - but it's good to review them again.
Even if, like me, you dislike air conditioning, when temperatures hit 80F, it's time to pump up the volume of that appliance. Fans, say experts, don't protect against heat-related illness when temperatures are above 90 degrees; they just push hot air around.
If you don't have an air conditioner, plan for the hottest part of the day by going to a mall or a movie or the library or visit a friend who has air conditioning.
If you have air conditioning and have elder friends or neighbors who don't, invite them for a visit in the afternoon. Some other important hot weather tips:
• Wear light-colored, loose clothing.
• Drink plenty of liquids and make reminders to yourself to do so. Elders sometimes don't feel thirst (another thing that stops working well with age). One way to know if you are drinking enough water is to check the color of your urine. Light-colored is good; dark indicates dehydration.
• Do not drink caffeinated and alcoholic beverages – or at least keep them to a minimum; they are dehydrating. (Some people dispute this; experts do not.)
• Plan trips out of the house and exercise for the early morning hours.
• Eat light meals that don't need to be cooked. High-water-content foods are good: cantaloupe, watermelon, apples, for example.
• Keep a spray bottle of cold water to help you cool down. Or use a damp, cool towel around your neck.
• Close doors to rooms you are not using to keep cool air from dissipating.
• Some medications for high blood pressure, diabetes and other conditions can inhibit the body's ability to cool itself, so it might be a good idea to ask your physician if you can cut back during hot weather.
• Pull down the shades or close curtains during the hottest times of day.
In that regard, I have been quite successful in keeping my home cool during hot weather without the air conditioner. In the morning, when the temperature here in Portland, Oregon is typically in the mid- or high 50s, I open all the windows.
I keep my eye on the thermometer and when the outside temperature reaches 65F or 70F – usually by late morning - I close the windows and the shades. After several years of practice with this method, I only rarely need the air conditioner even on 90-plus degree days. It saves a lot of money, too, not using the air conditioner. But never, ever hesitate to turn it on when you need it.
SERIOUS HEAT-RELATED CONDITIONS
Heat exhaustion occurs when the body gets too hot. Symptoms are thirst, weakness, dizziness, profuse sweating, cold and clammy skin, normal or slightly elevated body temperature.
Move yourself or someone experiencing this to a cool place, drink cool liquids, take a cool bath or shower and rest.
Heat stroke is a medical emergency. It can cause brain damage so get thee or the affected person to a hospital. It occurs when body temperature reaches 104 or 105 in a matter of minutes. Other symptoms include confusion; faintness; strong, rapid pulse; lack of sweating and bizarre behavior.
Don't fool around with heat stroke.
There now. That's pretty much the best of health experts' recommendations about protecting ourselves and others during extreme hot weather. If you have additional suggestions, please add them in the comments.