Per NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, June 2016 was the hottest June since an official record of temperatures began more than 130 years ago. July saw its share of sweltering heat and it is more than likely that August will continue this trend. Summertime is fun and relaxing, especially for those climates that experience a true winter. However, if the proper precautions are not taken, the heat and sun can be a dangerous combination for seniors. Recently, care.com featured some tips on how seniors can stay safe and healthy this summer.
Understand your Health
As we age, it becomes more important that our doctors are regularly updated on our health and lifestyle. A quick discussion could go a long way in preventing future issues.
The most important thing a senior can do during the summer is stay hydrated. The elderly are more susceptible to dehydration because the human body’s ability to conserve water lessens as we age. We also become less cognizant of our thirst, which coincides with a difficultly to properly adjust to temperature changes.
It is imperative that seniors drink water often and always have an adequate amount when making long trips. It is also a good habit to keep sweat replacement products such as Gatorade and Powerade® available, as they replenish key nutrients such as salt and potassium.
Since elderly individuals have a harder time knowing when they are dehydrated, they may also find difficulty in regulating their body temperature. This could lead to heat stroke which can be life-threatening in severe cases. It is important for the elderly and their caretakers to understand the symptoms and warning signs.
- Body temperature over 104º
- Sudden changes in behavior (confusion, agitation, anger etc.)
- Dry, flushed skin
- Nausea and vomiting
- Heavy breathing and/or rapid pulse
- Not sweating, even in extreme heat
If any of these symptoms occur, seek medical attention. It is also important to immediately get out of the heat, lie down, and place cold compresses and/or ice packs on your body.
If you take medication, make sure to verify with your doctor that it is not affected by high temperatures. This is especially important if your home is not air conditioned as the potency of some medications can be affected if stored at temperatures higher than approximately 78ºF.
Wearing appropriate clothing in the summer can help seniors feel cooler and more comfortable. Natural fabrics, such as cotton, tend to be cooler than synthetic fibers. Light-colored and loose-fitting clothes are also good additions to a summer wardrobe. If you have exposed skin, ensure that you apply sun screen liberally and often.
Too much sun exposure can also lead to eye irritation and vision loss. Wearing sunglasses can protect your eyes from harmful UV rays and help preserve your vision. A brimmed hat will also prevent excessive exposure to your eyes while simultaneously protecting the heads of those with light or no hair.
For the elderly individuals who live in areas with a high concentration of mosquitos it is important to use mosquito repellent, particularly at night. The elderly are prone to West Nile virus and encephalitis which both can be transmitted by the insects.
Communication is Critical
Communication plays an important role in the safety of the elderly. As high-temperatures can be life-threatening, seniors should let friends and family know if they will be spending an extended amount of time outdoors- even if performing such tasks as gardening or mowing the lawn. If you are a caretaker, it is important to check on the health and welfare of an elderly individual at least twice a day.
Caretakers or family members often can’t be present every moment of the day. That is why it’s important to build relationships with local individuals and neighbors who can also assist in this monitoring process.
It is imperative that all seniors have an emergency checklist with phone numbers in an easy-to-access area.
Seniors are much more vulnerable to the harmful effects of heat, and should make a conscious effort to avoid exposure as much as possible. Movie theaters and libraries provide welcome, cool spaces. Additionally, local agencies may have programs to assist seniors who have limited access to air conditioners.
However, summer is also a time to embrace the outdoors. Proper preparation accompanied by reacting appropriately to changes in the body will ensure that you, or your elderly loved ones, will have a safe and enjoyable summer.
If stairs are hindering your ability to get outside, make sure to contact Stannah for a quote on a stairlift. With a Stannah Stairlift you’ll be able to navigate the stairs of your home safely and they will no longer prevent you from enjoying your favorite summer activities.