Seniors beware: Minnesota’s temperature extremes can be dangerousJuly 11, 2017
Minnesotans are quite adept at savoring every last bit of summer sunshine. It’s the yin to winter’s yang. While temperature extremes can be dangerous in both seasons, summer heat risks can take us Northerners by surprise.
Land of 10,000 layers
One might think that Minnesotans would be well practiced at adjusting to temperatures given the extremes we experience from season to season. We’ve embraced dressing in layers, are unfazed by unseasonably late snow and thrilled with the unexpected heat wave.
We think we can handle this, right? But this weather yo-yo actually makes it hard for the body to become acclimatized to heat and to stay that way.
“The body adjusts well when temperatures changes are gradual,” according to Dr. Dan Trajano, senior medical director for Blue Cross. “Because there can be significant temperature fluctuations week-to-week and even day-to-day, Minnesotans bodies don’t get a lot of time to adjust.”
Over 65? Your body will react differently
While heat safety is important at all ages, older adults are more prone to heat-related illnesses. As we get older, the human body simply has a harder time regulating its core temperature. Due to this, there are a few things seniors should be aware during the hot months of summer.
- Beware of shrinking sweat glands.
“Interestingly enough, our sweat glands actually shrink as we get older so we don’t sweat as much,” says Trajano. “Sweat is an important mechanism for cooling the body and a lack of sweat might make it more difficult for seniors to recognize the signs of becoming overheated.”
- Dangers of dehydration.
Dehydration is a problem too. Our ability to sense that we’re thirsty diminishes as we age. And even mild dehydration makes it harder for the body to regulate temperature.
- Indoor exercise safest.
“Maintaining physical activity is very important for seniors,” adds Trajano. “But in the hot summer months, exercising in an air-conditioned facility, like walking at an indoor mall, is the safest option.”
How to prevent heat illnesses
To protect yourself from heat illnesses, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has five tips to beat the heat this summer:
- Spend as much time as possible in air conditioned spaces. Don’t rely on a fan as your primary cooling device.
- Drink plenty of fluids even if you’re not thirsty, but avoid alcohol and caffeine.
- Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing.
- Don’t use the stove or oven during peak temperatures.
- Take cool showers or baths.
It’s also important to note that some of these strategies could be difficult for seniors. Decreased mobility can be a deterrent to getting a drink of water. Seniors with a fixed income may be resistant to turn on the air conditioning because of the increased energy costs.
Make a plan to check on at-risk friends and family, and arrange for someone to do the same for you.
Know when to see a doctor
If you or someone else experience signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke, please see medical attention immediately. Warning signs can include confusion, fatigue, weakness, dizziness, loss of conscious or fainting, nausea and headache.
About Dan Trajano M.D.
Dan Trajano serves as Blue Cross’ senior medical director for the STARS and Risk Adjustment Center of Excellence. He is responsible for medical leadership on strategic initiatives to improve quality of medical care, health outcomes and member experience within the Medicare STARS Center for Excellence.