Do Air Conditioners Pose Health Concerns for Seniors?

elderly-hands-caneThe answer to this question is a simple yes and no. While air conditioners in and of themselves are of no threat to seniors, misused, malfunctioning or unmaintained air conditioners are a serious concern. This becomes an even bigger concern in extreme weather, during which seniors are at even greater risk.

According to a recent report, approximately one-third of seniors were in an environment with insufficient or non-functioning air conditioning. This becomes a serious concern in hot weather as a number of medical issues can arise, and existing conditions can flare-up or resurface, if seniors are in environments not conducive to optimal health.

What can go wrong?

The human body is very much like a machine. It's constantly challenging itself to adapt to its environment and keep up with what's going on externally, including trying to adjust to hot weather. Your body is always working to a keep a balance between its heat production and heat loss, with your brain acting as an organic thermostat.

Long-term heat exposure can cause multiple illnesses or symptoms, such as:

Heat Exhaustion

 This phrase may be funny to some since most seniors do not exert themselves to the point of exhaustion. However, heat exhaustion is not measured by how much physical activity you've consciously undertaken, but rather in the body's struggle to maintain a stable temperature. When the body can no longer cool itself, you will begin feeling thirsty, dizzy, weak and nauseated. In addition to profuse sweating, you'll also feel uncoordinated. Help seniors fight heat exhaustion by keeping them in a cool place and making sure they drink plenty of fluids.

Heat Edema

 Edema happens when your body retains water. In the summer, you might find your ankles and feet swelling when it gets hot. Usually resting the legs helps cure this discomfort.

Heat Cramps

 Painful tightening of muscles in your stomach area, arms, or legs. Cramps can result from hard work or exercise. While your body temperature and pulse usually stay normal during heat cramps, your skin may feel moist and cool. Take these cramps as a sign that you are too hot - find a way to cool your body down. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids, but not those containing alcohol or caffeine.

Heat Syncope

 A sudden dizziness that may come on when you are active in the heat. If you take a form of heart medication known as a beta blocker or are not used to hot weather, you are even more likely to feel faint when in the heat. Putting your legs up and resting in a cool place should make the dizzy feeling go away.

Heat Stroke

 Don't underestimate a heat stroke. These can be deadly, especially for a senior who has suffered from one needs immediate medical attention. Until help arrives, get the individual to a cool place. To prevent a heat stroke, make sure seniors are in a functioning air-conditioned environment and drink plenty of water.

Signs of a Heat Stroke:

  • Fainting
  • Lack of sweat despite heat
  • Delirious behavior
  • Coma or coma-like symptoms
  • Dry, flushed skin and a strong rapid pulse
  • Slow, weak pulse
  • Behavior change - confusion, ill-tempered, staggering
  • An above 104 degree Fahrenheit body temperature

Keeping Seniors Safe

  • Drink plenty of liquids. Heat tends to make you lose fluids so it is very important to make sure their fluid intake is kept up. Remember that fluids can also come in the form of fruits and vegetable. During hot summer months, seniors should avoid drinking an excess of coffee and tea, since caffeine is a dehydrator.
  • If you live in a home or apartment without fans or air conditioning, be sure to follow these ssun illustrationteps to lower your chance of heat problems:
    • Keep windows open at night to allow cool air to pass through. Similarly, keep windows open during the day to allow for cross ventilation. However, try putting up a sheet or light curtains to block out the sun's heat.
    • Try to stay in a cool, air-conditioned place. While public venues are good, many seniors don't like to or have difficulty leaving their home. If you know of a senior in this circumstance, and without proper air conditioning, there are many groups that will provide air conditioners or fans to seniors in these conditions.
    • Consider investing in a portable air conditioning unit. They're cheap to buy and easy to use.
  • Pay attention to the weather reports. You are more at risk as the temperature or humidity rise or when there is an air pollution alert in effect.
  • Dress in cooler natural fabrics such as cottons, rather than synthetic fibers. Also, remember that light-colored clothes reflect the sun and heat better than dark colors.
  • Avoid crowded places when it's hot outside and plan trips during non-rush hour times.

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