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Don’t let the summer heat beat you : Staying hydrated and cool is important, especially for seniors and kids

By ALETHEA PRICE
Cooperative Extension Office

Heat-related illnesses (heat stroke) occur when a person’s body cannot properly cool itself. These illnesses can occur at any age, but people who are old, young and obese, and those who have compromised immune systems or abuse alcohol and drugs are at increased risk. Even people on certain medications, such as antihistamines and antipsychotics are more susceptible to heat-related illnesses.

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Older adults are at risk for many reasons. Sweat glands, which help cool the body, often diminish in number with age, and those remaining may not function as well as they once did. Existing health problems, especially involving the heart, lung and kidneys, and some medications can also increase older adults’ risk of heat-related illness.

You can take steps to protect yourself and your loved ones from overheating. Here are some tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

• Keep up-to-date on the weather forecast, and stay in your home or another air-conditioned facility, such as a mall, public library or heat-relief shelter, if the temperatures and humidity are forecasted to be extreme.

• Avoid strenuous outdoor activities, such as exercise or gardening, during the heat of the day.

• Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water, fruit or vegetable juices. Drink even when you are not thirsty. Avoid caffeine and alcohol.

• Wear loose, lightweight and light-colored clothing.

• To keep your house cooler, refrain from using your oven and cover windows that receive direct sunlight.

• Take cool showers or baths to help yourself cool down.

Know the signs of overheating — dizziness, fatigue, lack of coordination, cold and clammy skin, thirst, headache, nausea, muscle spasms and/or cramps and ankle swelling. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience signs of heatstroke. Heat stroke is a potentially life-threatening condition that requires medical attention. Signs of heat stroke include high body temperature, confusion, changes in behavior, fainting (or feeling faint), staggering, rapid or weak pulse, dry or flushed skin and lack of sweating despite the heat.

If you are a neighbor, friend or family member of an older adult, regularly check on them during warm days and extended/excessive hot periods to make sure they are staying cool, hydrated and that they have access to air conditioning. Seek immediate medical attention if you think someone has signs of a heat-related illness.

Another effective way to manage your risk for heat stroke is to stay hydrated. This may come as a shock to all of you iced coffee and soda lovers out there, but your body runs on water and needs it to function. This doesn’t mean that you have to skip out on your sugar-sweetened beverages, although I would encourage you to limit your intake of those empty calories. Try increasing the amount of water you drink.

Always remember to drink plenty of water while spending time outside. Staying hydrated while working outdoors or participating in sports or recreational activities can be a challenge, especially during hot weather. Plain water is the best beverage to replace lost fluids. Sugars and electrolytes can slow the absorption process.

Water makes up about two-thirds of the body’s weight and almost 75 percent of the brain’s weight. We lose almost 4 percent of the water in our body through our skin each day. If you are sweating, you are losing even greater amounts. This increases your need to drink fluids.

Adults need at least 8 cups of liquid each day. This amount varies depending on body size, level of physical activity, age, overall health and climate. Fluid intake needs differ for some people including older adults, athletes and people who work outside.

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When trying to stay hydrated, cool water between 40 and 50 degrees is recommended. Don’t depend on your thirst as a signal to drink more water. If you feel thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. Drink water before and after outdoor activity. Not only is water important to reduce the risk of dehydration, it is also important for proper digestion, organ function, controlling body temperature and cooling working muscles. Drink up!

If water is not your thing due to lack of flavor, try these helpful tips for refreshing beverages:

Add fruit such as strawberries, blueberries, or pineapple to your water for a refreshing flavor boost.

Freeze watermelon in cubes to use instead of ice. They double as a refreshing snack at the end of the drink.

Add cucumber slices for a fresh flavor.

Include herbs and roots like mint and ginger for exciting flavor combinations with fruits and cucumbers.

Don’t be a victim of heat stroke or sun exhaustion. Stay hydrated. Most importantly, check on your elderly neighbors and remind all friends and family to drink plenty of water this summer.

Alethea Price is the agent for family and consumer sciences at the Boyle County Cooperative Extension Office. She can be contacted at a.price@uky.edu.