Raleigh, N.C. – North Carolina’s heat wave poses a particular risk for the elderly, who are being advised to limit their time outside during extreme temperatures.
Health experts said aging bodies can lose the ability to regulate internal temperature. As the body’s temperature rises, so does the chance of serious health complications.
“As the temperature increases, the body can start to have multi-system organ failure, which can lead to several other conditions,” said Dr. Colleen Casey with Rex Hospital.
Confusion, dizziness, increased heart rate, nausea, muscle cramps and the inability to sweat are all symptoms of heat-related illness, she said.
Hydration helps. But it’s important to avoid caffeine and stick with water and drinks that provide electrolytes, such as Gatorade, Casey said.
The heat is a special challenge for anyone with chronic heart or lung problems.
Lawrence Williams, 78, is on high blood pressure medication. He knows that excessive heat causes stress, which increases blood pressure. So he respects the heat.
“Anytime they're talking about temperatures above 100, I don't participate in a lot of activities,” he said.
Dr. Allen Mask, with the WRAL Health Team, reminds his patients to be vigilant about heat-related illness even when temperatures aren’t in the triple digits.
“We're all super-aware of the 100-and-above degree temperatures over the next few days, but I tell my patients, ‘Look, it's going to be hot all summer long, so be prepared,.’ “ Mask said.
Exercising in air-conditioned facilities is the best option for seniors or anyone else wanting to keep up with their workouts during the heat wave.
Carl Damich, 60, sees his post heart-surgery exercise class at WakeMed Hospital as an opportunity to escape the heat.
“I'm from Miami and it never affected me like this,” he said. “And it does now. It's more intense. There's no relief. I've never seen anything like it till I moved here.”
The ladies joining a Zumba class at the Whitaker Mill Senior Center on Friday were not going to let record high temperatures slow them down. Give the group some music, and they will show off their moves.
“Couldn’t live without it,” 76-year-old Frankie Lugiano said.
Classmate Sara Fernandez, 81, agreed.
“We keep going with our life, but we should know what to do and what not to do,” she said.
Leslie Campbell, who was reading in the center's library, knows the dangers of heat exposure firsthand.
“I’ve had a heat spell where I got out in the heat and really didn’t do well and had to get in ‘cause I fainted,” he said.
Campbell said he’s more careful now.
“I’m definitely more cautious,” he said. “If you don’t take care of yourself, you could have real problems.”
A big concern for caregivers is that the elderly may not ask for help.
“Some of the senior citizens feel like other people need help more than they do,” said Miranda Strider-Allen of Resources for Seniors, a nonprofit agency that assists disabled and senior adults. “And a lot of times they don’t realize they’re in a need.”