Caution needed to avoid dangerous conditions caused by heat

July 06, 1994|By Dolly Merritt | Dolly Merritt,Special to the Sun

Staying cool when temperatures are high and the humidity is soup-thick can be a challenge for everyone. But it's a necessity for seniors.

Dehydration, heat exhaustion, even sunburn can be serious hazards for those whose bodies already are fragile from age or illness.

To help guard against such threats, doctors and health officials who work with the elderly urge precautions that include avoiding long exposure to the heat and staying aware of the body's need for water when the weather gets hot.

Barbara Miller, coordinator of the health-wellness program operated by the county's Office on Aging also stresses the importance of staying indoors.

"It is always recommended that people who have had heart attacks or strokes should not stay out excessively in the heat because it is very fatiguing," she said. "I encourage seniors to drink plenty of liquids and to wear a hat if they are outside."

After a long, cold winter spent indoors, however, it's not surprising that some people want to play golf or tennis or work in their gardens.

All of these things are healthy as long as precautions are taken, said Dr. Marie A. Dobyn, a Clarksville resident who practices internal and geriatric medicine in Greenbelt and in Baltimore and Baltimore County.

"A lot of seniors, because of medication they may be taking, don't realize that they may be on a diuretic that would make them lose fluid," she said. "I tell my patients to take Gatorade, rather than water, because sweating and body secretions cause the body to lose electrolytes; Gatorade adds potassium to the body which will help combat the loss."

Dr. Dobyn also recommends that seniors wear hats and a sunscreen to protect the skin from burning, and she warns that seniors should beware of extreme temperature changes.

Drinking tepid water, staying inside when the air quality is poor, and avoiding exercise in the heat are among the recommendations that Dr. Dobyn gives her patients.

Swimming is one summer activity that Dr. Dobyn believes is safe and healthy for seniors in hot weather.

Every morning, Ellicott City residents Grace Perrone, 65, and Jack Jennings, 69, take their laps in the 25-yard swimming pool at the Roger Carter Neighborhood Center in Ellicott City. Mrs. Perrone's 68-year-old husband, Joseph, swims on Fridays.

"It's a wonderful opportunity for people with arthritis to exercise," said Mrs. Perrone.

Mr. Jennings agreed, saying, "It cools you off."

The following tips about avoiding heat stress are reprinted from an article entitled "Beat The Heat -- Stay Cool!" distributed by the Office On Aging and prepared by the Potomac Edison Co.:

* It takes about four to seven days to get used to unusual heat. If you know you'll be exposed to hot temperatures, spend more time each day in the heat for about a week before beginning

your task.

* Always drink plenty of cool water when you're in the heat. You may not be thirsty, but your body can still be losing a substantial amount of water each day in hot weather.

* Wear hats, sunglasses and loose cotton fabrics to help you stay cool.

* Take frequent breaks in a cool place.

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