Beating the heat | As summer temps approach highs, seniors should take steps to prevent overheating

Loran Haworth, who lives near Coupeville, readies his boat for an outing with the family. He said he likes to go boating in the summer, especially on hot days, and will often go fishing or crabbing. - Photo by Michelle Beahm/Whidbey News-Times
Loran Haworth, who lives near Coupeville, readies his boat for an outing with the family. He said he likes to go boating in the summer, especially on hot days, and will often go fishing or crabbing.
— image credit: Photo by Michelle Beahm/Whidbey News-Times

During 2013, the hottest day of the year in Oak Harbor was Aug. 27. The temperature reached 76 degrees.

Last Tuesday, the temperature hit 82 degrees.

According to Oak Harbor physician Douglas Langrock, the hottest weeks are still to come.

Langrock said that the hottest weeks of the year are generally the last week in July and the first week in August. That means residents of Whidbey Island need to be prepared for the upcoming heat and plan how to stay cool.

Senior citizens can be especially prone to overheating and dehydration, which means there is a greater need to be prepared.

“As you get older, your body is less capable of adapting to change in temperature,” Langrock said.

He added that because the island is surrounded by water, “nature’s air conditioner,” residents already have an advantage, but it does still get hot here.

“When it gets hot and someone can’t manage to lower … or prevent their body temperature from going too high, they can be dehydrated more quickly, or they can be confused,” Langrock said.

To counteract the heat, the most common advice — and perhaps the best — is to drink plenty of fluids, especially water.

Beyond that, eating fresh fruit, like watermelon, is a good way to stay hydrated, according to Trish Vaughn, who works at Careage of Whidbey.

“Really, you can prevent so much of dehydration by making enjoyable treats,” Vaughn said.

While summertime is a great time for outdoor activities, prolonged sun exposure can be dangerous. Vaughn suggests that people avoid being outside during the hottest hours of the day, late morning and early afternoon.

“If you’re going to do activities such as gardening, maybe do it earlier in the day or later in the afternoon,” she said. “Because we have that northwest sun, earlier in the day is probably best.”

Langrock suggested that on the hotter days, staying inside where it’s cool is the best course of action.

Langrock suggests using box fans, which can be purchased at stores like Walmart, and keeping windows with sun exposure covered with curtains.

When in a house that’s too hot and won’t cool down, he suggested maybe going to an air-conditioned place like the library, or to the house of a friend or family member who has had better luck keeping their home cool.

To cool body temperature, Shannon Delciello, a nurse at Harbor Tower Village in Oak Harbor, suggests putting a cold towel on the back of your neck.

“If you keep the back of your neck cool, you can stay cool,” she said.

She also suggests eating popsicles as a good way to stay cool and avoid dehydration. She advises staying away from caffeine and sugar.

Langrock added alcohol to the list of things to avoid in hot weather.

“The combination of alcohol plus any effects of elevation of temperature can be disastrous,” he said. “Wait till one cools off before enjoying a glass of wine or a cool beer.”

Langrock said that sometimes when someone is taking diuretic medicine, there can be concern on hotter days if he or she is drinking more water.

Langrock said before anyone on diuretics stops taking the medicine because of increased fluid intake, he or she should call a doctor for advice.

He said patients with questions are welcome to make appointments with their doctors, but most doctors and nurses would be happy to take phone calls to address any concerns a patient may have.

“To summarize, stay hydrated, be prepared,” Langrock said. “It’s helpful to have a fan, to have windows open, to have shades closed in windows facing the sun and to ask for help.”

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