With temperatures expected to remain in the upper 90s through the weekend, the Maryland Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) is reminding everyone in Greenbelt (and all of Maryland) that seniors are particularly vulnerable to hyperthermia - heat-related illnesses including heat exhaustion and heat stroke - caused by long periods of intense heat and humidity exposure.
Common symptoms of heat exhaustion include feeling thirsty, feeling giddy, weak or uncoordinated. Some sufferers may feel nauseous, sweat profusely and / or experience a cold and clammy feeling on their skin.
A person experiencing heat stroke, a more severe and serious form of hyperthermia, may exhibit symptoms such as confusion, bizarre behavior, faintness, combativeness, a strong rapid pulse, lack of sweating and possibly even becoming comatose. Immediate medical attention is urged when problems first begin. MEMA reports that heat stroke kills an average of 1,700 persons, 80 percent of them aged 50 and older.
MEMA offers the following tips for hyperthermia prevention:
- Drink plenty of liquids, even if not thirsty. Seniors should drink at least eight, 8-ounce glasses of water throughout the day. Eating a variety of fruits with high water content such as watermelon, pineapple, grapes, strawberries, peaches, apples and pears will also help to supply needed body fluids to prevent dehydration.
- Dress in light-weight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.
- Avoid the mid-day heat and do not engage in vigorous activity during the hottest time of the day—between noon and 4:00 p.m. When participating in outdoor sports and activities, be sure to protect the skin by using sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher (exposure to sunlight is a major cause of skin-related health problems). Wear a hat or use an umbrella for shade.
- If possible, use air conditioners liberally or try to visit air-conditioned places such as senior centers, shopping malls, libraries and theatres.
- Get accustomed to the heat by slowly exposing yourself to it briefly at first and increasing the time little-by-little.
- Avoid hot, heavy meals. Do a minimum of cooking and use an oven only when absolutely necessary. Remember to practice safe food handling during the warmer temperatures. Perishable foods should never be left out for more than two hours to prevent bacterial growth.
Top five MEMA tips for seniors to keep safe during severe heat:
- Stay indoors during extreme heat. Make sure you check in with family or friends everyday if you live by yourself
- If you do not have air conditioning in your apartment, go somewhere that does. A movie theater, the mall, a friend or relative's home or a community senior center are all good options.
- If you need to get out of the house and don't drive a car, call a taxi, a friend or a transportation service. Do NOT wait outside for the bus in extreme heat.
- If you are absolutely unable to leave the house and do not have air conditioning, take a cool bath or shower to lower your body temperature on extremely hot days.
- Know the signs of heat stroke (flushed face, high body temperature, headache, nausea, rapid pulse, dizziness and confusion) and take immediate action if you feel them coming on.