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DOCTOR AT THE DESK

Beat the Heat

"Help the elderly cool off"
By: Marc Evans Abat, MD, FPCP, FPCGMBeat the Heat

What may happen to the older person when faced with excessive sunlight or heat exposure? Sunburns can easily develop over a period of minutes to hours. More severe complications include skin cancer like melanomas, basal cell cancer or squamous cell cancer. Dehydration can occur in high temperatures, whether indoors or outdoors. This can lead to dryness of the skin and mucous membranes, a rapid heart rate, weakness, a clammy skin or an elevated skin temperature, cramping, a decrease in urine output and eventually changes in consciousness, kidney failure and death. Heat stroke, scientifically termed as malignant hyperthermia, results from a combination of dehydration and impaired ability of the whole body to maintain a normal temperature of 37˚C. This may lead to rapidly increasing body temperatures, sometimes exceeding 40˚C.

So what can Lolo and Lola do this summer to avoid all these problems? First thing to remember is for everybody in the family to be conscious about the temperature changes throughout the day. Drink water on a regular basis to stay hydrated. The amount of water needed by an older person to stay hydrated varies from person to person and is also dependent on any diseases that they may have.  Generally it is between 1.2-1.5 liters a day.

For those who are acutely dehydrated, oral rehydration solutions are more appropriate to correct the problem. Those suffering from heat stroke should be cooled down with tap or slightly cold water to keep the body temperature down. In certain emergency situations, especially if an older person cannot drink enough liquids, hospital care may be needed for intravenous fluid hydration and further medical care. 

People who take medications that affect fluid balance in the body should consult their physicians for possible adjustment of their fluid requirements and the dosing of their medications. Avoid giving other liquids like soda, fruit juices, or alcoholic beverages, as these drinks may cause an older person to get more dehydrated. Sports drinks may only be helpful in a limited circumstance like replacing sweat loss from exercise or in very mild dehydration.
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