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Keeping Up Your (Heat) Guard

August 28, 2009
As we head into the final dog days of summer, it’s important not to stop taking precautions against the serious effects of excessive heat on the older population, especially those with chronic health conditions. According to the Canadian Medical Association Journal, people over 60 are the most vulnerable to heat stroke, heat exhaustion and heat cramps, with 82 to 92 percent more deaths than average occurring in this age group. Risks are also greater for people battling obesity, heart disease, diabetes and respiratory conditions as these problems decrease the body’s ability to adapt to temperature changes. Even for older people in good health, laboratory studies show that their ability to detect heat is reduced and their physiological response to heat to cool the body, such as perspiration, is slower than in younger people. Their ability to respond to thirst is also delayed and they take longer to recover from dehydration. The message? Drink plenty of fluids and keep cool: Air conditioning lessens mortality risk by 80 percent and a working fan by 30 percent.