The Best Of…Seniors Can follow Steps to Avoid Heat-Related Illnesses

Published July 5, 2002, Pawtucket Times

            On July 3rd, it was so hot you could fry an egg on the pavement outside of McCoy Stadium.

             Although more than 10,500 fans had bought tickets to watch the PawSox game against the Ottawa Lynx, which concluded with a 45-minute fireworks display, only 8,300 fans showed up, according to Ken McGill, co-chair of teh Pawtucket Fireworks Committee.

             There were even smaller crowds who set up chairs in the parking lots and on sidewalks in the surrounding neighborhoods around McCoy Stadium to watch the much-awaited fireworks display, McGill said.

              But despite the searing heat that evening it was clear that some just like it hot.

              As the PawSox game was winding down, Ray Ethier, 60, a former union electrician, chatted with his friend, George Panas, 59, of Spumoni’s Restaurant.

             “I don’t mind the heat.  I just don’t like this humidity,” he candidly admitted.  However, Ethier acknowledged that the heat has slowed him down a bit, because “it’s too hot to play golf.”

            Panas doesn’t mind the searing outside heat either, or even working in a hot kitchen.

            “When people are sweating buckets in the kitchen, I feel as cool as a cucumber,” he said.

            Fifty-seven-year old Stan Lachut, a retired Pawtucket school teacher, waited with his wife Beverly, for darkness and for the fireworks show to begin. Standing by the barbecue tent and surrounded by more than 200-plus guests of the Pawtucket Firework’s Committee, the Cumberland residents said the heat’s not a problem for him, either.

            “Being outside in summer is a time you can spend with your family and friends,” he said, whereas “colder temperatures force people to stay inside buildings.”

            On the other hand, not everybody like summer’s hot days

           Ttemperatures in the mid-90s, combined with high humidity, can become uncomfortable and a serious health hazard for seniors.  And many are heeding the advice of experts gleaned from radio, television, and local newspaper articles about how to cope with the scorching summer heat.

           Patricia A. Nolan, M.D.,  the state’s top health official, gave her advise on surviving Rhode Island’s current heat wave.

            Seniors, small children and the mentally ill are the most susceptible to health problems from searing summer heat waves, said Nolan, who serves as the director of Rhode Island’s Department of health.  High temperatures can be especially dangerous to persons’ with cardiac and respiratory probems and to mentally ill patients taking psychotropic medications, she said.

            She noted that psychotropic medications make it harder for an individual to cool down.

            According to Noran, the early symptoms of heat-related illnesses include muscle cramps in the arms, hands, abdomen and legs.  Muscle cramps are a result of dehydration and salt loss, primary problems associated with heat stress.  Additionally, Nolan said that fainting in the heat is another early symptom

           If someone faints because of the heat, take the person into a cool place and cool them off by using a wet, cool cloth, Nolan recommends.

          “You want to sponge people down and fan them to reduce their body heat,” she says.

          Heat exhaustion, or heat-stork, is a more serious problem related to dehydration caused from high temperatures Nolan stated.  “Feelings of complete exhaustion, confusion, nausea or vomiting are real danger signs,” she said, adding, “If this occurs, you must get the body temperature down by addition fluids through intravenous methods.”

          To successfully beat the heat, seniors should cut back on outside physical activities and drink plenty of water, Nolan recommends.

          While water is the best fluid to drink on a hot day, fruit juice can also be considered a viable substitute.

          “Cooling off with a cold beer is not the best plan,” Nolan said, noting that alcohol coffee, tea and soda are loaded with caffeine, which can increase the changes of dehydration.

           “Seniors who tend to be most vulnerable to heat are those who don’t have a way to get cool for a part of the day,” Nolan said.  “One of the reasons heat waves affect the elderly more than the general population is because seniors are isolated, can’t get to a cool place, don’t have air conditioning and are afraid to open their windows at night when it finally cools down.”

            Nolan warned that with temperatures in the mid-90s, staying indoors in a really hot house or apartment is not the best thing for seniors to do.

           “Go to an air-conditioned shopping mall, see a movie, visit a restaurant, or get yourself into an air-conditioned space,” she recommended.  “If you can do this for an hour on a really hot day, you can protect yourself from serious health-related problems.”

          Sometimes seniors get into trouble during days with high temperatures because they just don’t realize the danger,” Nolan noted.

          During these days, it becomes important to monitor elderly parents or older friends, she says.

           “Call on them every day to make sure they are coping with the heat.  Take them out to a cool place, like a shopping mall, a library, or a restaurant to let them cool off.”

           In Rhode Island, some seniors tend not to adjust their behaviors to the heat because it’s only going to be hot for a few days,” Nolan says.

           However, adjustments are fairly easy to make, she noted, stating that not making them can be hazardous to their health, and perhaps even deadly.

          Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who writes about aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

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