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July 22, 2022

Heat waves can be dangerous for seniors and children; here's how to prevent dehydration, heat stroke

Philadelphia has opened cooling centers at 12 libraries where people can get out of the hot weather. Pools and spraygrounds are open too

Health News Heat Wave
Philly heat wave Thom Carroll/For PhillyVoice

Extreme heat can be troublesome for vulnerable people like children, seniors and people with lingering health issues. Health officials urge people to take precautions to prevent dehydration and heat stroke. Above, children play in the Logan Square fountain in 2019.

This summer has been a scorcher in Philadelphia region. The high temperature has hit at least 90 degrees 10 times this month. It has peaked in the upper 80s on five other days. 

This weekend, as much of the United States endures a heat wave, temperatures could reach 100 degrees in Philly for the first time in a decade

Such heat can be detrimental to vulnerable – seniors especially. But children, pregnant women and people with lingering health conditions also should take precautions during a heat wave. 

"The weather is dangerously hot, so I implore Philadelphians to continue to look out for their neighbors and loved ones to make sure they're safe," Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole said. "You literally can save someone's life this weekend. In addition to keeping others safe, please take care of yourself.

"If you feel faint, or lightheaded, or nauseous go to a cool environment, drink fluids, remove excess clothing and rest. Heat stress can quickly turn into heat stroke if the proper precautions aren't taken."

People suffering from heat stress may have a fast heartbeat, muscle cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, chest pain, or headaches. Additionally, the chances of dehydration – when a person loses more fluids than they intake – increase as blazing temperatures arrive in the summer. 

"Dehydration is very common, especially in seniors," said Dr. Parth Modi, a neurologist at Virtua Health in New Jersey. He frequently see such patients showing signs of confusion and agitation. "They may not feel thirsty due to age-related changes. So there's a good chance they're not drinking enough."

Problems can intensify quickly when seniors become dehydrated, Modi said. Dehydration can lead to urinary tract infections, respiratory issues that can cause pneumonia, and constipation. Additionally, dizziness can result in falls, a significant danger among older people. 

There are several reasons seniors are at higher risk for dehydration, Modi said. 

The sense of thirst decreases with age, so seniors may drink less. Mobility also becomes more limited as people age, and they become more mindful of their fluid intake to limit the number of times they have to use the bathroom. Similarly, most men have enlarged prostates, and they may try to compensate for frequent urination by drinking less. 

Additionally, certain medications prescribed to seniors, including diuretic drugs, also can cause dehydration because they increase urination. Seniors need to ensure they are constantly replenishing their fluids, Modi said. 

Tips to reduce dehydration risk

To reduce the risk of dehydration, people should drink water whenever they feel thirsty. Sugary drinks, like sports drinks, may quench thirst, but they're more prone to contribute to dehydration because high sugar amounts cause cells to transfer more water, increasing urination. Modi recommends diluting sugary drinks with water. 

The color of one's urine can indicate whether someone is dehydrated. Usually, a well-hydrated person's urine will be a pale yellow. A darker shade may indicate dehydration but B vitamins and some medications also can have that effect.

Modi also recommends people keep water nearby throughout the day. Middle-aged adults and younger people should drink at least four to six 8-oz cups of water each day. If people are sweating frequently or spending time outdoors, more is necessary. But seniors may not sweat, so a lack of perspiration may not indicate they need water. 

How to keep children healthy

Cooper University Health Care offers tips to keep children cool during scorching hot days.

Parents should pack water bottles for their children when they are heading outside and encourage them to drink often – even if they don't ask for water. They also should feed them water-based food, like fruits and vegetables, as snacks while in the heat. 

Dressing children in one layer of light-colored, lightweight clothing can maximize evaporation of sweat. Parents also should plan extra rest times because heat can make children feel tired. 

Children also should not be left in a car because it can because dangerously hot in a short period of time.  

And if it's too hot to be outside, parents can plan movie marathons or trips to indoor places like malls, libraries and museums. 

If a child becomes dehydrated, parents should stop their activities, move them to a cool place and give them fluids. If a child is suffering from heat exhaustion, ice packs can be given. If symptoms do not improve within an hour, parents are advised to seek medical attention.

"Heat stroke occurs when the body can no longer regulate its temperature," Maureen Donnelly, a registered nurse at Cooper Uealth said. "This is the most serious heat-related illness, and you should call 911 immediately." 

Where to cool off in Philly

In Philadelphia, one of the most common ways to keep children cool is water-related activities, including pools or spraygrounds.

During the heat emergency, which runs through Sunday, the city has cooling centers at 12 libraries to help keep people cool off, especially if they lack air conditioning in their homes.  across the city open to keep you cool.

The city also will have four cooling buses with air conditioned parked at the following intersections:

• Germantown and Allegheny avenues
• Wyoming and Rising Sun avenues
• Broad Street and Snyder Avenue
• 52nd Street and Larchwood Avenue

The Office of Homeless Services has a hotline to assist people experiencing homelessness find shelter during the heat wave. Residents can call (215) 232-1984 to help people find shelters. 

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