The impact of a heat wave on the elderly and on babies

Heat waves present a very real risk. Find out how to get through them without concerns, especially if you are over a certain age or if you care for a baby.

What is meant by "heat wave"?

Ah, summer! What a wonderful season where Mother Nature reveals herself in all her glory! The beauty of parks and gardens, bird songs, and of course, the heat from the sun helps to reenergize us before the return of Old Man Winter. Heat is usually revitalizing, but it can become oppressive when the thermometer spikes and the humidity sets in.

When weather forecasts project temperatures of at least 30°C and a humidex (combination of temperature and humidity in a single measure to reflect the temperature perceived) of 40°C or more, Environment Canada issues a Heat Warning. In this case, we speak of oppressive heat or a heat wave, which present a danger to health, especially for babies and for the elderly.

The effects of a heat wave

Due to global warming, periods of oppressive heat are more and more frequent, prolonged, and intense. Extreme heat also means risk of dehydration. Other than symptoms such as dry mouth, hypotension, and muscle cramps, dehydration due to overexposure to extreme heat can cause heatstroke.

Heatstroke occurs when the body overheats and is unable to cool down. This can cause fever, headache, dizziness, fainting, and in the worst cases, death. Heatstroke is a medical emergency and requires immediate medical attention. For additional information, read the following text: Heatstroke: how to prevent and treat it and Becoming dehydrated in summer is risky!

Oppressive heat also predisposes people to other health problems, such as:

  • heat oedema (swelling)
  • heat rash
  • heat cramps, and
  • heat exhaustion

The risk to the elderly

Elderly people are generally more vulnerable to the effects of a heat wave, particularly if they:

  • take certain medications or if they are affected by conditions that have the effect of decreasing their tolerance to heat
  • are physically and socially isolated
  • present a loss of autonomy

Various medications (i.e. diuretics, antiparkinsonian and antiarrhythmic agents, etc.) can interfere with the body’s thermoregulation mechanisms, which predisposes a person to diseases triggered by heat. Don’t hesitate to speak to your pharmacist to find out if your drug therapy can have this type of effect.

Some medical conditions can increase the risk of heatstroke or another heat-related illness. Additionally, oppressive heat can make various chronic diseases worse. Thus, it is important to be very prudent if you suffer from one of the following conditions:

  • cardiovascular disease (i.e. heart failure)
  • lung disease (i.e. emphysema, asthma)
  • kidney disease or kidney failure
  • neurological disease
  • hypertension, and
  • diabetes

Some advice for the elderly

Even if you still feel young at heart and have a sharp mind, you could be more vulnerable to heat waves due to your age. That said, there’s no need to worry if you follow this advice:

  • Drink more water than usual.
  • Avoid outdoor activities during a heat wave. Why take unnecessary risks?
  • Limit your consumption of tea, coffee, and alcohol to prevent dehydration. If you find it difficult to limit yourself, drink more water.
  • Rest.
  • If possible, stay in an air-conditioned room.

Air-conditioning: essential during a heat wave

In addition to contributing to our comfort, air-conditioning is one of the most effective ways of protecting against heat-related illnesses. However, it is crucial to adequately use and maintain your air-conditioning unit. If it is set too cold or if it is not cleaned regularly, it can cause infections, intensify allergy symptoms, and worsen respiratory diseases like asthma. The following text: Air-conditioning and its effects on health, provides thorough information on the subject.

How to protect babies

Due to their different metabolism, babies are particularly sensitive to heat. Vigilance is important during a heat wave and the following advice will help you to take good care of your little one:

  • Keep your baby in diapers at home. He/she will perspire less and therefore have less hydric loss to compensate for.
  • Have your baby drink regularly.
  • Place a fan in his/her room.
  • Give your baby a bath two or three times a day to cool him/her down.
  • If you go outside, cover your baby’s head and limit exposure to extreme heat as much as possible.

Remember that your pharmacist is there to answer any health-related questions you may have.

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The impact of a heat wave on the elderly and on babies

Heat waves present a very real risk. Find out how to get through them without concerns, especially if you are over a certain age or if you care for a baby.
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