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Heat Stroke in Older Adults: Recognizing the Symptoms

Heat Stroke in Older Adults: Recognizing the Symptoms

The temperature is definitely rising. Hello, Summer! And with the temps already reaching well into the 100s with the heat index, it’s no surprise that people, both young and old, are starting to feel the heat.

Increased exposure to the hot summer outdoor temperatures can increase the risk of heat stroke and heat exhaustion – two health dangers older adults should not ignore.

What is Heat Stroke?

Heat stroke is the most serious and dangerous heat-related illness. It occurs when the body can no longer control its internal temperature, causing it to rise rapidly. During heat stroke, the body loses its ability to sweat, which leaves it unable to cool down. When your body temperature rises too fast, it can endanger your health as well as vital organs, forcing them to slow down and/or shut down.

What is Heat Exhaustion?

Heat exhaustion is similar to heat stroke and can be just as severe if not treated immediately. However, it is a milder heat-related illness that develops after several days of prolonged exposure to high temperatures and unbalanced fluid intake. Heat exhaustion is often the precursor to a heat stroke, so it’s important to address it as soon as you start to notice symptoms.

Heat Stroke Symptoms

  • High body temperature (above 103 degrees)
  • Flushed, dry, and hot skin
  • Racing heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Fainting
  • Confusion
  • Heat exhaustion

Heat Exhaustion Symptoms

  • Heavy sweating
  • Pale and clammy skin
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Dizziness
  • Headache

Who’s At Risk for Heat Stroke or Heat Exhaustion?

Everyone! Anyone who is exposed for a prolonged period of time to extreme heat is at risk of suffering from a heat-related illness, such as heat stroke and heat exhaustion. However, not everyone tolerates heat the same, putting some at an increased risk.

Young children and older adults have a higher risk of experiencing heat stroke due to their bodies being unable to adjust to the sudden change in temperature. Those most at risk include:

  • People 65 and older
  • Those who are ill, have chronic health conditions or are prescribed certain medications
  • People who are overweight

How To Protect Yourself

It’s important to take proper precautions when going to be outdoors in the heat. Ways you can protect yourself from suffering from heat stroke include:

  • Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing
  • Apply sunscreen and wear a protective hat
  • Stay hydrated
  • Avoid outdoor heat exposure during the hottest parts of the day
  • Rest and take frequent air-conditioned breaks if possible

If you suspect you or someone you’re with is suffering from heat stroke, take action and call 911 immediately.