Heat Poses Health Risk To Seniors

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Rising temperatures in the summer months affect everyone, but can pose significant health risks to seniors.

"The reason we become more susceptible to heat as we become older, is that the body's ability to conserve water is reduced," said Vicki Robinson, a nurse at the Payson Care Center. "Our ability to respond to changes in temperature decreases."

Chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, also increase the effects of heat, Robinson said.

Dehydration occurs when the body loses more fluid than it receives and lacks enough water to function properly. Dehydration happens more rapidly in young children and the elderly, taking effect in a matter of hours, Robinson said.

Thirst is a poor indicator of dehydration, she said, as someone may already be dehydrated by the time he or she is feeling thirsty.

"Letting thirst be your guide is a tossup," Robinson said. "A better way to know is the color of your urine. If it is dark yellow, it can signal you are dehydrated."

Drinking extra water is important, she said.

"When people think of fluids, Coca-Cola is not one of them," said Robinson, who flavors her water with lemon slices. "Water and tea are better options. Think clear."

Those who live alone or are in long-term care are also at risk, since they tend to eat and drink less, Robinson said.

"They are not replenishing their bodies," Robinson said. "If you eat foods high in water, such as fruit and vegetables, you're fine, but not if you eat a lot of processed foods."

Air conditioners also help reduce the impact of heat.

Those without air conditioners in their homes can go to a senior center to stay cool, said Bruce Thompson, director of the Pine-Strawberry Senior Center.

"We keep it very comfortable," said Thompson, who turns on ceiling fans and an evaporative cooler. "It's 72 degrees by the time people get here around lunch."

Art Cobo, 83, and his wife Agnes, 80, use air conditioning in both their home and car. They also stop by the Payson Senior Center. Cobo said for the past several days, he has gone outside for an hour in the afternoon to scrub the driveway.

"I put on my big-rimmed hat and sunscreen," said Cobo, who moved to Payson from Phoenix a decade ago to escape the heat. "I take out two thermal cups full of water. I can't do it without water."

Rosalind Schuerer said she opens her windows at night to cool her house down.

"I am very frugal," Schuerer said. "It was 70 degrees this morning with no air conditioning."

Stages of dehydration

Stage 1: Slight dehydration

  • Dryness of mouth
  • Thirst

Stage 2: Mild to moderate

  • Stickiness of mouth
  • Thirst
  • Muscle weakness
  • Headache or dizziness and lightheadedness
  • Tiredness or lack of energy
  • Decrease in urine output

Stage 3: Severe dehydration -- Seek immediate medical attention

  • Extreme thirst
  • Confusion and irritability
  • Lack of sweating
  • Low blood pressure
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Fever
  • Decreased skin elasticity
  • Little or no urination

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