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Updated: May 9, 2011 01:49 IST

Summer and age-old ailments

R. Sujatha
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Walking Unprotected: An elderly person makes his way in Nandambakkam in the scorching heat on Sunday. Photo: R. Shivaji Rao
Walking Unprotected: An elderly person makes his way in Nandambakkam in the scorching heat on Sunday. Photo: R. Shivaji Rao

With the temperature steadily increasing in the last few days, doctors in the city say they are seeing more elderly persons with symptoms of heat exhaustion and dehydration.

Simple steps to relieve heat exhaustion would prevent having to tackle a full-blown heat stroke, they say. When elderly persons suffer from exhaustion they complain of lack of appetite. It is necessary to watch for sudden and unusual fatigue.

“The other day, I was travelling by train when an elderly gentleman became unconscious. We moved him to an air-conditioned coach and it helped,” recalls geriatrician S. Hyderi. But, not everyone is that lucky, he adds. Someone who may have travelled for several hours without access to healthcare may end up with dehydration or worse, he says.

In his clinic in Broadway, he sees at least one elderly person a day, while the Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital receives one or two patients a day.

B. Krishnaswami, head of Geriatrics Medicine, says, “They suffer from heat exhaustion and the symptoms include severe dry skin, nausea, vomiting, tiredness and drowsiness. Sweating cools the body. But, in the elderly, the skin becomes very dry, blood circulation to the skin is reduced and they don't sweat. The body temperature rises and they are down with fever,” he says, advising that the normal dose of salt is maintained in food. Intake of pickles and chips which have a large dose of salt should be avoided.

Persons with cardiac conditions and those who are on medication for diabetes or are on antihistamines, antipsychotic drugs or diuretics, must beware of dehydration, he adds.

Dr. Hyderi has found that family members would have fed fruits and fruit juices to combat heat, even to persons with diabetes thereby worsening their condition. “The family members would complain that their parent has not been eating for two days. The anaemia could be caused by chronic kidney disease, which is a complication of diabetes. They are advised to see a nephrologist,” he says.

Persons with diabetes should drink three to four litres of liquid, buttermilk or water, and not fruit juices to counter dehydration, doctors say. “Every day we see at least 10 elderly persons with heat exhaustion,” says M. Marudhupandian, who practises in Adambakkam. “Some of them present with very high fever. They are prone to gastroenteritis, caused by food and water contamination, and chicken pox (herpes).”

Geriatricians advise the elderly to stay out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Those who can afford it should stay in an air-conditioned room or use an aircooler.

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