Dehydration and Heat Stroke in Seniors


Florida in the summer can have sustained temperatures in the high 80s and 90s. Some of the leading causes for emergency room visits by seniors this time of year are dehydration and heat stroke. Extreme summer temperatures can have deadly consequences for seniors. Heat stroke, also known as sun stroke, is a medical emergency that is often fatal if not treated correctly or promptly. According to the National Weather Service, heat is the number one weather-related killer. Heat stroke is a form of hyperthermia defined as body temperature of 104 F (40 C) that results from extended exposure to extreme heat. Heat stroke and dehydration go hand in hand, as heat stroke often follows dehydration. As the body’s core temperature rises to dangerous levels, nervous system function is comprised. On average, more than 1,500 people in the U.S. die each year from excessive heat — greater than annual number of deaths due to tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and lightning combined.

The heat causes increased perspiration and as a result the body looses water and salt. Home health care providers can monitor clients for symptoms of dehydration and heat stroke. These symptoms include: headaches, nausea, muscle cramps, and overall weakness. In extreme cases dehydration may cause confusion or seizures in seniors.

Fortunately, the prevention of dehydration is quite easy:

  • Drink lots of non-alcoholic and decaffeinated drinks during the day.
  • Stay cool – use air conditioning or fans. Plan outings to cool places; the mall, movies, library, senior center etc.
  • Eat foods that contain fluids- watermelon and fruits, vegetables, ice pops and jello.
  • Carry water with you everywhere. Drink even when you are not thirsty.
  • Avoid salty foods.

As a result of the natural aging process older adults and the elderly are particularly heat sensitive and more prone to heat stroke and dehydration. As the aging process progresses the body has a more difficult time adjusting to fluctuations in temperature. Additionally, seniors should consult their doctor, pharmacist or Home Health Nurse, to ask if any of their medications could affect the way their body reacts to heat.

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