By Sam Rausman
The dog days of summer are upon us, and while everyone enjoys a little sunshine, there are potential dangers that the summer heat can bring, particularly for the elderly. Dehydration, sunburn, sunstroke, eye damage, and heat exhaustion are all serious health concerns that must be considered during the summer heat. By having awareness about the risks and taking proper preventive measures, seniors can safely and comfortably enjoy the summer months.
Seniors are more prone to heat-related dangers because their bodies do not adapt to drastic changes in temperature as well as they once did. This can be exacerbated by chronic medical conditions or medications that disrupt the body’s ability to adapt to heat or regulate body temperature.
Whether you are a caregiver, a child of a senior, or a senior yourself, here are eight tips to ensure that you and your elderly loved one will safely enjoy the warm summer months.
(1) Drink plenty of fluids. While it is recommended for anyone to drink eight cups of water a day, it is even more essential for seniors who are more susceptible to dehydration. Proper hydration is essential in the heat, whether you are indoors or out, and oftentimes seniors aren’t aware when dehydration has already started. Cold drinks may be more palatable in hot weather, so think ahead and keep a bottle of water in the fridge or freezer at all times. Try to avoid sugary, alcoholic, carbonated, and caffeinated drinks as they will not hydrate properly and sometimes can lead to dehydration.
(2) Proper sun protection. Sunscreen (at least SPF 15) should be applied daily to all areas of exposed skin. It helps to make this part of the process of getting dressed in the morning so you won’t forget on your way out. Carry a bottle of sunscreen with you in case you need to reapply. Wearing a large-brimmed hat and wraparound sunglasses (that filter all UVA and UVB rays) will protect both the face and the eyes from damaging UV rays. When possible, wear loose-fitting clothing with long sleeves, or pants, from a light, reflective material like cotton to add additional protection to the skin.
(3) Check the weather. Severe heat can be very dangerous, especially for the elderly. In order to be properly prepared, you need to know when a heat wave is expected. When exceptionally hot weather is coming, arrange for your loved one to be in an air-conditioned environment as much as possible. Trips to indoor locations with air conditioning such as the mall, the movie theater, a friend’s house, or the library are great options. Save outdoor time for mild weather.
(4) Limit time outdoors during peak sun hours from 10 to 4. Try to plan your day around being near a fan or air conditioner during the hottest parts of the day, and if that is not possible, at least find a shady spot to rest in. A morning stroll is a nice way to get outdoors early and to start out the day with some fresh air.
(5) Check medications. Some medications may cause increased sensitivity to UV rays which can have adverse reactions when the patient is exposed to the sun. Additionally, some medications affect patients’ ability to adapt to rising temperatures or are less effective when they are exposed to severe heat. Speak to your loved one’s medical team to be aware of any precautions that should be taken when venturing outdoors into the heat or sun.
(6) Know the risks. Seniors with certain medical conditions such as heart disease, heart failure, diabetes, and lung disease are at greater risk in the hot weather. Speak to a doctor about any increased risks your loved one may be susceptible to.
(7) Stay in touch. If your loved one is not under your care, be in touch at least twice a day to ensure he or she is staying safe and hydrated. Sometimes all that is needed is a reminder to drink and stay cool.
(8) Be aware of the signs of heat stroke. Heat stroke is a condition that is caused by your body overheating and, in serious cases, untreated heatstroke can lead to brain, heart, kidney, and muscle damage and even death. Symptoms of heat stroke include the following:
Becoming confused, agitated, or disoriented
Sudden excessive tiredness and lethargy
High body temperature
Rapid pulse and breathing
Dry, flushed skin
Heat stroke can be life-threatening! If you notice these symptoms in your loved one, seek medical attention immediately. While you wait for help to arrive you can perform the following actions to cool the person down:
Get the person into a shady or cool area, indoors when possible.
Fan vigorously or bring indoors to an air conditioner.
Cool the person using whatever means possible: put him or her in cool water in a shower or tub; sponge down with cool water; spray with a garden hose; or place ice packs or cold wet towels on the neck and head and under the armpits.
Getting outside when the weather is nice has a number of important benefits for seniors. First of all, exposure to sunlight is a valuable source of vitaminÂ D, which is critical for optimal brain and cognitive function and for the bones and muscles. It also gives them a chance to socialize, get fresh air, and interact with people, animals, children, and the world around them. This is sure to heighten their mood and give a sense of rejuvenation.
Because of these benefits, it is important not to hide inside during the summer months. With awareness of the dangers and a little planning to take proper precautions, outdoor time can be a safe and enjoyable part of the summer for all.
Let us know if you have any questions about keeping your elderly loved one safe during the summer months. And if you are seeking caring, professional home care for your family member, contact Brina Ganchrow at Geriatric Resource Consultants at 718-998-1999 today.
Sam Rausman, LCSW-R, is the owner of Geriatric Resource Consultants, LLC, a licensed home-care agency in Brooklyn. He is a certified case manager and an Aging Life Care Professional. He can be reached at 718-998-1999.