Caregivers: Beat the Heat for Seniors

With many hot days coming up on the calendar, I worry about my father who is in ill health. I take care of him on the weekends. Do you have any suggestions on how to “beat the heat”?
Florence in North Carolina, 59

Summer is here and it’s time for some fun in the great outdoors. But if you’re a caregiver for an elderly loved one, you must remember that the heat can be a very serious issue. I recently played a part in a close call. I’m happy to say everything turned out just fine, but it was scary.

In the midst of a heat wave a few years ago, I was called by an elderly woman’s relatives who lived in a different state from her. The relatives were in regular contact with their grandmother, but they had been unable to reach her during the heat spell. They first tried to get in touch with the superintendent of her building, but he was on vacation. When they called me, I quickly had them overnight the key to her residence along with a certified permission slip that allowed me to enter the home.

Right away, I went to the apartment along with a nursing aide in case we had an emergency. We entered the apartment and called her name, but there was no answer. All of the windows were closed, and the air conditioning was turned on but not working. Within a minute, we found the grandmother sitting in her rocker in front of the television. She was dehydrated, hallucinating, and looked like a limp rag. She didn’t even have the energy to react. We quickly called 911, collected all the medication we could find, and brought them to the hospital with us. Because she was a high-functioning individual, she was coherent within 24 hours and within a few days, she was re-hydrated and stabilized. But many elderly with weaker constitutions could have met a much worse fate.

Consider these precautions:

* If your father lives alone, arrange daily contact with him via phone, internet, or in person. This allows most heat-related problems to be solved before potentially irreversible damage is done. I often have my clients check in with a local coffee shop or other neighborhood store, too.

* Discuss your father’s hydration with his doctor so you know the appropriate amount of daily water he needs to consume based on age, weight, height, and body type. Discuss the facts with your father and be sure he adheres to the program.

* Make sure all air conditioning units are serviced by professional maintenance people. The filters have to be changed and clean, and in the winter, you need to protect the unit if your father lives in cold weather.

* If your father is out in the heat, make sure he has suntan lotion on all exposed skin including behind the ears, under the chin, and on top of the feet if open shoes or sandals are worn.

* Your father could also carry an umbrella and/or wear a wide-brimmed sun hat to minimize sun damage or the chance of heat stroke.

* Bring along a sweater or jacket if he is going indoors to a theater or restaurant so he won’t be too cold.

As long as you use common sense and extra precaution, your father will have a better chance to beat the heat and enjoy his days in the sun.

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