The Heat is On

By Dr. Gerard Muraida

In 1984 Glenn Frey, a former member of The Eagles released the song entitled The Heat is On. I doubt he had any notion of global warming or the record- breaking heat wave that would befall our country in the summer of 2021.

New Mexico heat can connote many things: chile, music, and of course, the weather. We are constantly warned of the dangers of heat exposure, which may lead to dehydration if proper precautions are not taken. Dehydration is simply is losing more fluid than is being taken in. Our body loses water through perspiration, breathing, urination, and defecation.

Water is important for many bodily functions, including temperature regulation, organ function, and maintaining adequate blood pressure and even our mood.  The delicate balance of sufficient fluid intake versus fluid loss can be disrupted quite easily and is particularly troublesome for seniors. Seniors drink less in general often due to the blunted thirst response that occurs with aging. By the time they feel thirsty, dehydration is already present. Unrecognized dehydration can lead to hospitalization. Treatment for dehydration has been estimated at about $1.36 billion annually.

Symptoms of mildly inadequate fluid intake include headache, nausea, and darkening of the urine. Dry mouth, muscle cramps, fatigue, constipation, and dizziness can also be attributed to dehydration.

Physical signs of severe dehydration include confusion, disorientation, low blood pressure, increased heart rate, rapid breathing, fainting, and even seizures.

For some seniors, poor memory or swallowing difficulties affect fluid intake. Incontinence of the bowels and bladder can also lead to excessive loss. Infections of any sort can cause dehydration. Mobility limitations can prevent a senior from accessing fluids. Medications can also increase fluid loss via the urine or cause diarrhea.

Treating mild dehydration can be as simple as drinking a few extra glasses of water. However, if severe dehydration is suspected, a visit to the emergency room for hospital treatment is recommended.

The best treatment is prevention. Six to eight cups of fluid per day is recommended, though no established standard for the number of daily cups of water exists.

Consult your health care provider regarding your medical conditions, medications, and any fluid intake concerns you may have. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and drinks with high sugar content, as these drinks can promote fluid loss. Drink small amounts of your favorite beverage frequently during the day.

In New Mexico, the heat can precipitate dehydration rapidly. Avoid being outside during the hottest part of the day by planning your outdoor activities before 11 a.m. or after 6 p.m. Consult your health care provider regarding any fluid intake restrictions you may have. Drink up, stay cool, and be safe. The heat is on!

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