Governor Walker has declared June 8, 2017 as Wisconsin’s Heat Awareness Day to remind everyone of the dangers associated with extreme heat.
Heat Related Concerns for Older Adults and Persons with Disabilities
This year Mother Nature took its time delivering summer and let a cold, wet spring linger a little too long. However, recent temperatures indicate, summer is finally here. For many life-long Milwaukee County residents, you know that summer in the Milwaukee area is full of surprises. But you can always count on at least one or two hot spells during the summer season.
One or two days of extreme heat are usually not a problem, but when the weather stays hot for more than two or three days, the effects can be devastating on older adults age 65 and older, the very young, and persons with disabilities. People in these target populations have less ability to retain water and are at risk for serious problems caused by overheating and dehydration. Many medications (even over the counter drugs) can have the same effects.
Older adults are more prone to heat-related illness. As people age, their bodies lose some ability to adapt to heat. The aging body doesn't cope with sudden stresses as quickly as the younger body. For example, on hot days, elderly skin is not able to produce sweat and cool the body as efficiently as younger skin. Lack of mobility, due to frailness or disabilities, makes it difficult for people to take adequate care of themselves in hot weather. Medical problems such as congestive heart failure, diabetes, pulmonary disease, and kidney conditions can all increase a person's risk for heat stroke or heat exhaustion. Additionally, it's good practice to review medications with your doctors since many prescription drugs have the potential to increase one's risk of heat stroke or heat-related illness during hot and humid weather conditions.
What is heat stroke? Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness. This occurs when the body becomes unable to control its temperature: the body's temperature rises rapidly, the body loses its ability to sweat, and it is unable to cool down. Body temperatures rise to 106°F or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not provided.
Warning signs and symptoms of heat stroke may vary but may include the following:
- An extremely high body temperature (above 103°F)
- Red, hot, and dry skin (no sweating)
- Rapid, strong pulse
- Throbbing headache
Heat exhaustion is a milder form of heat-related illness that can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures and inadequate or unbalanced replacement of fluids.
Warning signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion vary but may include the following:
- Heavy sweating
- Muscle Cramps
- Nausea or vomiting
- Skin: may be cool and moist
- Pulse rate: fast and weak
- Breathing: fast and shallow
What can you do to protect yourself? First, and foremost, pay attention to weather reports. Be aware of weather warnings and the predictions of temperatures 98°F and above, and weather conditions with high humidity and temperature over 86°F. It is important to prepare for heat emergencies by staying aware of weather warnings. You can stay informed of the latest forecast by visiting the National Weather Service website at: http://www.weather.gov, watching the news or listing to the radio.
High humidity combined with warmer temperatures affect the body's ability to sweat and cool down efficiently. Drink cool, nonalcoholic and non-caffeinated beverages (If your doctor generally limits the amount of fluid you drink because of your medication, ask your doctor how much you should drink when the weather is hot. Also, avoid extremely cold liquids because they can cause cramps). Additionally, you should follow these prevention tips to protect yourself from heat-related stress:
- Take a cool shower, bath, or sponge bath
- Wear lightweight clothing
- If possible, remain indoors in the heat of the day
- Do not engage in strenuous activities
- Take note of the color of your urine, brown or dark yellow urine suggest dehydration
If possible, seek an air-conditioned environment. If you don't have air-conditioning, please know that all Milwaukee County owned Senior Centers and nutrition sites are available to older adults during their regular hours of operation. During a heat emergency or heat advisory, the senior centers listed below may be opened for extended periods of time. Before you leave your home, call one of the following Milwaukee County senior centers to confirm the times of the extended hours.
The following Milwaukee County owned senior centers are cooling site locations for seniors, 50 plus in age:
McGovern Park Senior Center Clinton Rose Senior Center
4500 W. Custer Ave 3045 N. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive
Milwaukee, WI 53218 Milwaukee, WI 53223
(414) 527-0990 (414) 263-2255
Wilson Park Senior Center Kelly Senior Center
2601 W. Howard Ave 6100 S. Lake Drive
Milwaukee, WI 53221 Cudahy, WI 53110
(414) 282 - 5566 (414) 483-3532
Washington Park Senior Center
4420 W. Vliet Street
Milwaukee, WI 53208
If you have older adult relatives or neighbors, you can help them protect themselves from heat-related stress by visiting them at least twice a day and watch them for signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Remind an older adult to increase their fluid intake by drinking cool, nonalcoholic beverages regardless of their activity level. However, it is extremely important for anyone on water pills or other medications to ask their doctor how much they should drink while the weather is hot.
What can you do for someone with heat stress? If you see any signs of severe heat stress, you may be dealing with a life-threatening emergency. Have someone call 911 for immediate medical assistance while you begin cooling the affected person. Do the following:
- Get the person to a shady area.
- Cool the person rapidly, using whatever methods you can. (For example, immerse the person in a tub of cool water; place the person in a cool shower; spray the person with cool water from a garden hose; sponge the person with cool water; or if the humidity is low, wrap the person in a cool, wet sheet and fan him or her vigorously.)
- Monitor body temperature and continue cooling efforts until the body temperature drops to 101°–102°F
- If emergency medical personnel are delayed, call the hospital emergency room for further instructions.
- Do not give the person alcohol to drink
- Get medical assistance as soon as possible
The Milwaukee County Department on Aging is a member of the Milwaukee Heat Task Force. The Heat Task Force meets periodically during the year to share information and develop strategies to protect citizens during times of Heat Alerts and Warnings. You can view a copy of the Plan for Excessive Heat Conditions for 2017 and get additional heat health information such as where to find Cool Spots, tables of Heat Alerts, and how heat illness can be affected by medications, by visiting the City of Milwaukee Health Department Web site at:
Also, you may wish to visit the Wisconsin Department of Health Services web site for additional State and Federal information and resources at:
Please help yourself and other persons who may be at risk by staying informed about heat conditions and make frequent checks on elderly, ill or disabled relatives, friends or neighbors when a heat wave strikes - and help them keep cool.