Summertime is a favorite season for older adults who spent plenty of time indoors during the cold winter months.
While summer is a great time for outdoor fun with family and friends, the heat and sun can be dangerous if precautions aren't taken.
If you are a senior (or a caregiver), here are some tips for a fun, safe summer.
You are more susceptible to dehydration because you lose your ability to conserve water as you age. You also can become less aware of your thirst and have difficulty adjusting to temperature changes.
You should drink eight glasses of water each day to stay hydrated, more in conditions of extreme heat and humidity. Salt and potassium replacement products (Gatorade) are also helpful. Avoid caffeine (coffee, tea, cola) and alcohol, which can actually dehydrate the body. Plain or flavored water is a good substitute.
Make sure your medications won't be affected by higher temperatures -- especially if you don't have air conditioning in your home. Some medications are less effective if stored at temperatures higher than room temperature.
Even small increases in temperature can shorten the life expectancy for seniors who are coping with chronic medical conditions. Cool your home by keeping hot, humid air outdoors. Shut windows and doors as well as blinds or shutters. Stay indoors on lower floors in hotter, more humid weather. Shopping malls, movie theaters, churches and libraries provide welcome, cool spaces. They also afford a great opportunity to get out of the house and get some exercise, without the exhaustion of the heat.
Contact your local Area Agency on Aging to inquire if there are any programs to assist seniors with fewer resources to get air conditioners or at least fans. Take a cool shower or bath which can lower your body temperature on extremely hot days. Temperatures inside the house should never exceed 85 degrees for any prolonged period of time.
Stay in touch
You should let friends and family know if you will be spending an extended period of time outdoors, even if only gardening. Do these tasks in the early morning, not during peak heat or sun. Keep track of time and do not stay outside for long periods of time.
Ask a younger neighbor if she can come by and check on you occasionally to make sure everything is all right. The extra company and friendship that can result is a bonus!
Caregivers should check in regularly with the senior when temperatures are high.
Know who to call
Prepare a list of emergency phone numbers and place them in an easy to access area. This way, the right people can be called to help quickly, to prevent any further issues or to keep medical problems from getting worse.
Eat light food
Eating yogurt, fruit, vegetables, salads and chilled soups in smaller portions can keep your body from overworking and overheating.
Wear the right clothing
Everyone, including seniors, should dress for the weather. When it's hot out, some people find natural fabrics (such as cotton) to be cooler than synthetic fibers. Wear light-colored and loose-fitting clothes to help feel cooler. They reflect the heat and are more comfortable.
Protect your body
Sunblock will protect your skin from damage. Use at least SPF 30 or higher sunblock, along with wearing hats and sunglasses.
Vision loss can be common among seniors, and too much exposure to the sun can irritate eyes and cause further damage. Wearing sunglasses can protect your eyes from harmful UV rays and preserve your vision.
Be aware of heat-related illnesses
During the summer, be particularly cautious about abnormally high body temperatures. Heat stroke is an advanced form of hyperthermia that can be life-threatening. Make sure to know the warning signs and get medical attention immediately if you or anyone you know is experiencing these symptoms:
- Body temperature greater than 104 degrees
- A change in behavior such as confusion or agitation
- Dry, flushed skin
- Nausea and vomiting
- Heavy breathing or a rapid pulse
- Not sweating, even if it's hot out
- Dizziness or fainting
If you (or an elderly loved one) start to feel any of these symptoms, ask for medical help and then get out of the heat, lie down and place ice packs on your body.
Apply bug spray
Seniors are particularly prone to West Nile Virus and encephalitis. If you live in areas where there are a lot of mosquitoes and West Nile Virus is present, use mosquito repellent to help reduce the risk of getting bit by a mosquito carrying this virus.
Check the weather report
A heat wave is at least 48 hours of excessive heat and high humidity. It is difficult and dangerous for everyone, especially seniors. A heat index tells how hot it feels as it combines the air temperature and relative humidity. Direct sunlight can increase this temperature by several degrees.
Know your risk
These health factors may increase the risk and threat of a heat related illness:
- Poor circulation, inefficient sweat glands, and changes to the skin by normal aging
- Heart, lung, and kidney diseases, as well as any illness that causes weakness or fever
- High blood pressure or conditions that require changes in diet. Low salt diets may face added risk
- Taking several different prescriptions for various conditions
- Being overweight or underweight
- Drinking alcoholic beverages
If you follow these tips, there is no reason you can't have an enjoyable and fun-filled summer. No matter your age, you can beat the heat this summer.