Home care providers throughout the United States stepped up efforts to ensure client safety during last week’s dangerous heat spell — when temperatures soared into the 90s and 100s in at least 46 states. Due to their age, conditions and medications, some older people have a diminished ability to regulate their body temperatures, making them more vulnerable during heat waves.
Tim Pederson, CEO of WestMed Rehab, Rapid City, S.D., said in an interview with AAHomecare, “Of course we advise our patients to stay in a cool place. They also must take extra precautions to prevent oxygen concentrators from damage due to overheating. Many clients tend to use more cylinders to prevent additional heat buildup in their homes from concentrator use so we have additional cylinders available.” Pederson said power mobility equipment also requires additional attention during extreme heat waves. “Special attention needs to be paid to batteries and electronic components as they are susceptible to impaired performance or failure in extreme heat.”
Michael Caracci, president and CEO of Sta-Home Health Agency, Jackson, Miss., said his agency has lists of patients to contact under different circumstances. For instance, when electricity is out, they contact patients on oxygen. “In the summer, we contact those we know do not have air conditioning — which is a lot — if they have no reliable caregiver,” says Caracci. The agency also distributes a guide to symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke and tips for staying cool.
According to the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), heat-related illnesses include sunburn, heat cramps, heat rash, heat exhaustion and heatstroke — illnesses that the elderly, the obes and children are particularly susceptible to. Of these, the two most serious conditions are heat exhaustion and heatstroke, both of which can be fatal. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include heavy sweating, muscle cramps, fatigue, weakness, cold or clammy skin, dizziness, nausea or vomiting and fainting. Untreated heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke suddenly, and cause unconsciousness within minutes and may be signaled by feelings of uneasiness and sickness.
The Centers for Disease Control has a fact sheet on extreme heat that includes recommendations for keeping seniors cool and symptoms to look for. Visit www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/elderlyheat.asp.