Hamad Medical Corporation
During this season of extreme heat and humidity, elderly people are at a particularly higher risk of developing heat-related illnesses and need special care and attention, according to a geriatrics expert at Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC).
“We urge the public to check frequently on elderly family members, friends or neighbors to make sure that they are safe, especially those who are living alone or have chronic medical conditions, mental illness, or any difficulty caring for themselves, said Dr. Marwan Ramadan, Senior Consultant at HMC’s Geriatrics Department in Rumailah Hospital.
Dr. Ramadan continued to say that elderly people may have diminished sensation, especially those who have dementia or diabetes, and may not even be aware of being thirsty or feeling too hot. He explained that even otherwise healthy people can find it hard to cope in hot weather because of the physical changes that people undergo as they age.
People of advanced age, especially those aged 65 and above, can rapidly develop serious and life-threatening conditions such as heat stroke, or perhaps even develop complications to an already existing medical condition. Some medications also increase the risk of heat-related illness, such as diuretics, which encourage fluid loss and can quickly lead to dehydration in hot weather; beta blockers (usually used in the treatment of heart conditions); anti-depressants; antihistamines and sedatives, which can also dull an elderly person’s awareness of discomfort.
“As a precaution, elderly people should review their medications with their doctor to determine whether their prescribed medications put them at increased risk of heat-related illness, and how they may safeguard their health during the intense summer season,” Dr. Ramadan explained.
The elderly are also advised to avoid strenuous activity, and warned to remain indoors, in a cool and well-ventilated environment between 10 am and 4 pm daily, when the temperature is at its peak. Furthermore, they are encouraged to stay hydrated and should opt for lighter meals to avoid increasing the body temperature. In addition, it is recommended that the elderly avoid consuming alcohol and caffeinated drinks, including tea, coffee and soft drinks, which can actually contribute to dehydration. Those with kidney problems should consult their doctors regarding their fluid intake.
Symptoms of heat stroke can develop either rapidly or slowly over a period of days, so it is important to pay close attention to the well-being of elderly loved ones. Signs of heat stroke to watch out for include hot and dry skin, dizziness, headache, rapid heartbeat, chest pain, breathing problems, rash, cramps, and brown or dark yellow urine, which also suggest dehydration. If the elderly person is experiencing any of these symptoms, Dr. Ramadan advised cooling them down promptly with a wet washcloth or fan, and getting them into a cool shower and the nearest emergency room for further evaluation.
Also, all residents, particularly people who work outdoors, are cautioned to take precautions and safeguard themselves against heat related illnesses during this period. “To avoid heat illnesses, outdoor workers should increase their water and fluid consumption even before they get thirsty. But they should avoid drinking caffeinated drinks as this will help prevent dehydration. It is important to ensure people rest between 10 am and 4 pm, which is the hottest period of the day, because that is when we see more cases at the Emergency Department,” HMC’s Chief Consultant of Emergency Medicine, Dr. Warda Al Saad had earlier cautioned.
It is vital to seek urgent professional medical assistance immediately sighting signs of heat illnesses, or call 999 for HMC’s Ambulance Service for further evaluation and care.