Hospice & Palliative Care Resources

Caring for Hospice Patients During Times of Extreme Heat

August 1, 2018

As June came to an end, much of the United States was stuck in an oppressive heat wave. While uncomfortable for many, this can be quite dangerous for seniors and the physically or medically fragile, such as hospice patients; their bodies are less able to regulate their temperatures and cool themselves. When our bodies heat rapidly or when we lose fluids and salt due to perspiration or dehydration, people can experience heat cramps, heat exhaustion or heat stroke. In some cases, hyperthermia (absorbing more heat than our bodies can handle) is fatal.

Adding to these concerns are that certain chronic illnesses and medications increase an older person’s risk of heat stroke, which is dangerous in itself and puts an extra physical burden on an already compromised system.

Warning signs of heat-related illnesses

Heat exhaustion stems from dehydration due to prolonged exposure to high temperatures. Symptoms include muscle cramps, headache, dizziness, fatigue and confusion.

Heat stroke is a very serious condition, as the body physically overheats and cannot regulate or bring down its own temperature. The distinguishing sign of heat stroke is a body temperature of 104° or higher. The patient may also experience a distorted mental state, flushed skin, racing heartbeat, nausea, vomiting and rapid breathing.

Hospice care during heat waves

Of course, the effects of extreme heat on hospice patients are of great concern to hospice caregivers. For those who are going out into the field to provide care, or for family members who are caring for loved ones in the home, here are some ways to help the patient stay safe and comfortable during a heat wave. These are simple precautions that anyone can easily implement to keep the person comfortable and help moderate body temperature when temperatures outside are soaring.

At the Center for Hope Hospice, we always make sure each and every person in our care is comfortable and receiving just what the doctor ordered. For patients receiving care in their homes or in other medical settings, our hospice nurses will work with families or staff to help avoid unnecessary discomfort and the issues associated with heat-related illnesses during periods of extreme heat. If you are caring for a loved one at home and have a question about how to handle the heat, call us at (908) 889-7780