Knowing the dangers and preventing the effects of heat waves on seniors
Between June 30 and July 7, 2018, the province was hit by an intense heat wave and heat records were broken during this period. The result of this latest heat wave was 53 deaths in the Montreal area.
Remember that in 2010, no fewer than 106 deaths were recorded in the province because of heat waves. Seniors are more at risk than others for the effects of excessive heat.
What is a heat wave?
The heat wave is a period of very high heat during the summer, during which the daytime temperature is high without the night temperature down enough to cool the atmosphere. For example, if temperatures exceed 35 degrees in the daytime without descending the night below 20 degrees, for several days, then it is a heat wave.
On the other hand, when Environment Canada reports a temperature of at least 30 degrees Celsius and a humidex, reflecting the perceived temperature, of 40 or more, it emits an extreme heat report. If these conditions persist for at least 3 days, it is called a heat wave, which presents a danger of heat-related illness.
Risk Factors for a Heat Wave
It is more likely to feel discomfort due to excessive heat or heat wave:
- when the humidity is high
- when the wind is weak or absent
- when a period of heat occurs while the body is not accustomed to heat; early in the season or right after a period of cool weather
- in cities where the temperature is generally higher than in the countryside.
Why are seniors at higher risk of excessive heat?
Older adults are more sensitive to large temperature changes. In the case of high heat, they are particularly vulnerable to the risk of dehydration for two main reasons:
- Sweating disorders: older people produce less sweat than younger people, making it harder for them to adapt to sudden temperature rises.
- Disturbance of the mechanism of thirst: normally the sensation of thirst appears as soon as the body needs water to maintain its balance, in the elderly, thirst comes with a delay.
Older adults must learn to drink at the very sign of heat even before they are really thirsty to avoid health problems, especially in times of a heat wave.
The effects of a heat wave on seniors
Due to global warming, periods of intense heat are becoming more frequent and intense and can have the following effects:
- mouth dryness
- muscle cramps
Overexposure to hot weather can cause heat stroke (the body can no longer cool), which will cause the following effects:
- loss of consciousness
This is a medical emergency that requires consultation and requires immediate care as it can lead to death.
Increased risks for seniors
Older people are more vulnerable to the effects of the heat wave; in particular, if they:
- take certain medications or have conditions that reduce their heat tolerance
- live in isolation
- have a loss of autonomy.
Various drugs can interfere with the body's thermoregulatory mechanisms. Do not hesitate to consult your pharmacist or doctor to find out if your medication can have such an effect.
Use caution during heat waves if you suffer from the following conditions:
- cardiovascular diseases (eg heart failure)
- pulmonary diseases (eg, emphysema, asthma)
- renal failure
- neurological disease
What precautions to take in the heat wave?
Basic precautions and some good habits can allow our elderly people to cross the episodes of heat waves without difficulty.
- Stay hydrated (drink between 1 and 2 litres of water a day or follow the instructions of your doctor, if necessary, in case of difficulty, consume fruits and raw vegetables)
- Eat normally even if you are not hungry
- Avoid alcoholic drinks because alcohol can make dehydration worse
- Refresh often:
- bathe or take a shower or a fresh bath every day without drying yourself
- refresh your skin with a wet towel several times a day
- have a few hours a day in cool or air-conditioned areas (libraries, shopping malls)
- close the shutters, curtains or blinds of windows located on the facades exposed to the sun
- air current ou air breeze.
- Protect yourself from the heat:
- reduce your physical effort (sports, gardening, etc.)
- wear light coloured light clothing
- avoid going out at the hottest hours (11:00 - 15:00)
- if you must go out, wear a hat and loose clothing
Monitor heat warning emissions and follow the recommendations of Environment Canada or the Public Health Branch in your area.
And especially, give news of your loved ones who have lost their autonomy or who live alone.
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