DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Forget the weather outdoors – some North Texans are heading inside to sweat it out in the heat.
A team of researchers at the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine are studying the effects of heat stress on older adults.
Participants ages 60 to 80 will spend several hours inside a climate-controlled chamber, with a steady temperature of 112 degrees. Researchers will gradually increase the humidity from 30 percent to 70 percent – monitoring vital signs of participants to better understand how aging bodies respond to extreme heat.
The goal, says research fellow Dan Gagnon, is to understand how cooling methods, like fans and dietary supplements, work to bring down heat within the body.
“The heart, the blood vessels – they don’t respond as well as we age, so there’s less blood going to the skin, which is one way to dissipate heat,” said Gagnon. “Individuals over the age of 65 are most at risk of death or injury from the heat.”
Elizabeth Temples, 72, is one participant. She arrived early Friday morning for some tests before entering the chamber.
“The big thing I’ve heard today, is it’s hot,” she said.
The air inside the chamber starts out hot and dry, and gradually becomes more humid, leading to sweating. More than 140 minutes, Gagnon and a team of researchers took blood samples and monitored her heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature, in addition to other steps.
“At some point we’ll reach a certain humidity where the body can’t deal with it any more. That’s what we’re trying to see. Her internal body temperature, instead of staying flat, it will start going up at a much greater rate,” said Gagnon.
At the point of highest humidity – the assistants only had to spend a few minutes in the chamber before they were soaked through.
“If I were in here by myself I don’t know how long I could make it,” said Temples.
Today’s measurements will serve as a base line. She’ll return for two more sessions, at which time the researchers will introduce the cooling methods.
Temples has a positive attitude, and says she is determined to stick it out for the duration of the study. She’s learning about her own body, too.
“It’s part of deciding what you think you can do, and what you can’t,” she said.
The study is a joint partnership between Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas and UT Southwestern Medical Center. More participants ages 60 to 80 are needed. Researchers are also seeking participants in a younger age group: ages 18 to 35.
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