Sweltering summer temperatures have settled in this week, with the National Weather Service issuing an excessive heat warning for a wide region stretching from the Washington, D.C., area to the Ohio Valley.
Temperatures in the Northeast are 5 to 10 degrees above normal, with New York City experiencing the the highest above-normal temperatures of any place in the country, according to the Associated Press. In New England, electricity use is nearing record levels as residents try and stay cool.
Health officials warn that the high temperatures and oppressive humidity mean older adults, in particular, need to take precautions.
People age 65 and older are more prone to heat-related problems, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, because their bodies don't adjust as well to changes in temperature. Older people are also more likely to have a chronic condition that can affect their ability to deal with high heat, especially if they don't have air conditioning at home.
And, older adults should be aware that certain medications, such as beta blockers which slow the heart, can make it more difficult for the body to cool.
Older adults - and friends and family members who check on them - need to be aware of the signs of dehydration, heat exhaustion and heatstroke. These include nausea, dizziness, muscle cramps, weakness and rapid breathing and pulse.
In addition, here are steps older adults can take to protect their health during this hot, sticky season:
- Drink plenty of cool, nonalcoholic beverages. Avoid caffeine.
- Take it easy. Don't engage in strenuous activities.
- Take a cool shower, bath or sponge bath, or place cool, wet cloths on your neck and under your armpits.
- If possible, seek an air-conditioned environment. (If you don't have air conditioning, consider visiting an air-conditioned shopping mall, public library or one of the cooling stations that many cities are setting up to help residents.)
- Wear lightweight clothing and a brimmed hat to shade your face.
- Cover windows that get direct sun that can heat your home.
- If possible, remain indoors during afternoon hours, the peak heat of the day. Do errands in the early morning.
- Check on older neighbors or relatives at least twice a day for signs of heatstroke or heat exhaustion.
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