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MU Expert says Keep an Eye on Older Adults, Infants During Heat Wave

Aug. 14, 2007

Story Contact:  Christian Basi, 573-882-4430,

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Temperatures are expected to peak in the low 100s and higher in the Midwest and much of the South this week. Even though the country will experience a little cooler weather next weekend, one University of Missouri-Columbia expert says that it is important to watch older adults and infants as they sometimes can't, or won't, take the necessary steps to keep themselves cool.

“Some older people are very hardy and don't like to complain, so they think that they can `tough it out' during a heat wave,” said Steve Zweig, a professor of family and community medicine at MU. “Unfortunately, they can put themselves in some very dangerous situations.”

Older adults also increase their risk of heat injury with the use of common prescription drugs such as diuretics and beta blockers. Some elderly may fear the high cost of turning on their air conditioning, but it is in these temperatures that air conditioning is essential.

Zweig said the good news is that heat injury is avoidable. The best way to prevent heat injury is to stay in air conditioned environments. If it is necessary to go outside, go early in the morning and wear light clothing. If there isn't access to a room with an air conditioner, maximize shade and open windows at night. Don't be afraid to ask for help or to stay at a friend's house or shelter. Call and check on those that you know are at risk.

Another step to avoid heat injury is to keep hydrated with water and other non alcoholic drinks. Zweig does not recommend using salt tablets as a way to avoid dehydration.

About 80 percent of heat injuries happen to people over the age of 50. Infants and people with disabilities are also at high risk. Infants have a large surface area for their body and can become dehydrated quickly. Infants and people with disabilities also may not be able to communicate what symptoms they are experiencing.

Some symptoms of heat injuries include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Fever
  • Lack of sweating