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Hot Weather Concerns for Nursing Home Residents  
During the summer months, nursing home residents may be at great risk when the weather is hot and the humidity is high. According to the U.S. Office of Consumer Affairs, heat stress is a life threatening condition for the elderly. This Fact Sheet gives information about heat stress and explains how nursing homes are supposed to protect residents from this problem.

What is heat stress?

Heat stress is the burden that hot weather places on your body, especially your heart. Your body responds to hot weather by increasing blood flow to the skin and by sweating. Evaporating sweat carries away large amounts of heat from the skin surface, thus helping to keep a normal body temperature in hot weather. Very hot weather increases the effort needed to keep a normal temperature. In addition, high humidity causes greater stress because it slows down evaporation.

The elderly are more vulnerable to that stress than younger people because they do not adjust as will to heat. They perspire less. Nursing home residents are especially likely to have health problems requiring medicines that work against the body's natural defenses to adjust to heat. For example, diuretics (often prescribed for high blood pressure) prevent the body from storing fluids and restrict the opening of blood vessels near the skin's surface. Certain tranquilizers and drugs used to treat Parkinson's disease interfere with perspiring. These and other chronic conditions such as circulatory problems, diabetes, a previous stroke, or a damaged heart often upset normal body responses.

What are warning signs of heat stress?

Early signs of heat stress may be loss of appetite and feeling listless and uncomfortable. Serious signs of possible heat stroke, which require immediate medical attention, include:

  • Dizziness
  • Deepening urine colors
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Cramps
  • Throbbing headache
  • Dry skin (no sweating)
  • Chest pain
  • Mental changes
  • Breathing problems
  • Vomiting
  • Great weakness
  • Less frequent urination

Special Precautions

During extremely hot weather you should limit physical activity. Activity adds to heart strain. Avoid hot foods and heavy meals. They add heat to your body. Watch salt use. Avoid alcohol. Alcohol acts as a diuretic, resulting in fast water loss.

What requirements must nursing homes meet?

Medicare and Medicaid certified nursing homes must:

  • provide comfortable and safe temperature levels between 71-81 degrees.
  • be well ventilated.

Georgia rules, which apply to all nursing homes, also require proper ventilation. Also, nursing homes must fully respect the "feelings" and "comfort" of residents.

In summary, nursing home residents are at great risk during hot weather. Nursing homes must make sure residents are kept safe and comfortable and monitor them closely for possible symptoms of heat stress. If these steps are not taken, contact your Community Ombudsman Office for assistance.


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