Over the years, there have been higher-than-average temperatures, warmer summers, and more extreme-heat days. These changing conditions can cause more illnesses and deaths, especially for older Rhode Islanders and for those who have cardiac or breathing problems. According to States at Risk: America’s Preparedness Report Card, the Ocean State has more than 26,000 people who are considered to be especially vulnerable to extreme heat because they are 65 and older, or under 5 years old, and are living in poverty.
During an average Rhode Island summer, the heat index reaches 90°F for 10 days. Expect temperatures to soar, says the state’s Department of Health, noting that between 2020-2099, Rhode Island may experience 13-44 more days each summer that are above 90°F.
The ABCs of Heat-Related Illnesses
With the intense summer heat, the incidence of health-related illnesses known as hyperthermia, increases among seniors and persons with cardiac and breathing problems. The heat-related illnesses include heat stroke, heat edema (the swelling of your ankles and feet when you get hot), heat syncope (sudden dizziness after exercising in the heat), heat cramps, and finally heat exhaustion.
Heat-related illnesses, including heat exhaustion and heat stroke, are of particular concern during periods of extreme heath. Heat exhaustion symptoms include heavy sweating, weakness, cold, pale or clammy skin, a fast or weak pulse, nausea or vomiting, and fainting. Heat stroke is a medical emergency and 911 should be called immediately. Individuals experiencing heat stroke symptoms should also be moved to a cooler environment. Apply cool cloths or place the person into a cool bath to lower body temperature.
Tips on Staying Cool
To protect yourself and your family from health-related illnesses, the Rhode Island Department of Health offers tips to reduce your chances of having a heat-related illnesses. Here is a sampling….
Drink more water, fruit or vegetable juices, and don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink more fluids. – Avoid alcohol or liquids that contain high amounts of sugar.
Check on your older friends and neighbors, particularly those who are caring for young children.
Remain in air-conditioned buildings as much as possible. If you don’t have air conditioning in your home, go to a community-based cooling center, such a senior center, in a church, shopping mall, movie theater, or library.
Stay inside and out of the hot sun particularly on hot and humid days, especially when there is an air pollution alert in effect. During an extreme-heat event, nighttime temperatures may be too warm to allow the body to cool down. It is important to be aware of both the temperature and the heat index.
Find a shaded area where you can sit and relax, particularly during the hottest part of the day. Wear light clothing and a had if you have to go outside. If you work outside, wear sunscreen (re-apply frequently), pace your activity, stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and continually check on co-workers
Avoid outside physical activity especially at mid-day. If you exercise outdoors, move your workout to a morning or evening time, or take it indoors to an air-conditioned environment, or try swimming, which is a great summer exercise.
Take cool showers or baths to cool down, particularly if you’re unable to be in an air-conditioned location. Avoid turning on your oven, if possible. Because it will make your house hotter.
And, never, never, never leave young children or pets in parked cars, even with the windows down.
Free publications on hot weather safety and other healthy aging topics in English and Spanish are available from the NIA website or by calling NIA’s toll-free number: 1-800-222-2225.