Take precautions for elderly when it comes heat, bug bites


By Angela Rocheleau

Another great month of summer is here to enjoy in Central Mass. But for seniors living alone, danger can be hiding in the heat waves. Here are answers to some questions we are often asked.

Q: My family seems to think my elderly uncle is fine living by himself in an apartment. What should I alert them to look for when they visit him this summer?

A: With forecasters predicting a hot month ahead, try to advise those responsible for elderly friends and family members that are isolated or homebound to be aware of the following signs. The homebound elderly are especially vulnerable during a power failure, when available air conditioners don’t work, or in neighborhoods where they keep doors and windows closed for security.

In addition many elderly restrict their fluid intake to minimize bathroom visits and don’t realize they are causing themselves to dehydrate in the heat. The effects of dehydration can be subtle with an array of symptoms including confusion, fatigue, headache and muscle cramps. Any of the previous symptoms can lead to more serious health issues. It would be a good idea to ask family members to stop by often to check on him. You may want to consider working with a local private duty health care agency to set up a time frame for a home health aide to visit on a regular basis. Even a few hours a week could make a big difference for him.

Q: Our elderly mother lives in a remote country area and spends most of her day gardening, which she loves. She is careful about sun exposure but doesn’t pay much attention to bug bites. We are worried about her chance of getting Lyme disease.

A: You are right to be concerned. Potential signals of Lyme are joint pain, dizziness and muscle aches, which are common complaints among seniors. For generations, the prevailing notion has been that old people simply tend toward absent-mindedness, arthritis and fatigue. Seniors are at risk of being infected with one of the many strains of Lyme disease caused by a bite from a tick in the nymph stage, which is too small to be seen by someone with imperfect vision. A tick in the nymph stage is about the size of a period. People with perfect vision usually think it’s a freckle or a speck of dirt if they’ve been gardening. Typically in its initial stages, Lyme disease symptoms can be confused with the flu, causing chills, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, fever and headache. About 60 to 80 percent of people also develop a red, round rash around the bite within 30 days.

To protect your mom, be proactive by advising her to dress properly while gardening or walking in the yard. It will make it easier for her to spot any ticks if she wears light-colored clothing, a hat, a long-sleeved shirt and long pants. Tuck her shirt into her pants and her pant legs into socks so ticks can’t crawl under her clothing. Since you are living far away from your Mom, consider exploring support systems for her well being with private duty help from a reputable, experienced agency. Living alone and isolated can be difficult. Visits from a qualified home health aide can provide companionship and assistance as well as assuring your mother’s safety in her garden.

Angela Rocheleau has 25 years of experience in the home health care industry focusing on leadership roles for the past two decades. She serves on the Better Business Bureau board of Central New England and the Executive Board of the Mass Council for Home Care Aides.