As we get older, we become more sensitive to heat and sun damage. In America, almost 200 people die every summer due to health problems caused by high humidity and heat, most of whom are older than 50 years.
Why are seniors more at risk? Our bodies undergo physical changes as we age, such as having poor blood circulation and high blood pressure. Chronic health conditions, as well as side effects from medicine, all increase our risk.
Whether you’re a senior or a caregiver who has seniors in your care, it is important to be cautious when temperatures start to rise above 90˚F. The good news is that if you’re careful and take the necessary safety precautions, you can still enjoy a fair amount of time outside. The following summer safety tips for caregivers and seniors will allow you to safely enjoy some summertime fun!
1. Keep Hydrated
It is recommended that we drink between six and eight glasses of water per day to keep healthy and hydrated, but if you spend a lot of time outside and in the sun, you need to drink even more. The older we get, the longer it takes for our bodies to tell us that we’re thirsty, so don’t wait until you're feeling thirsty before you drink water.
A good tip is to always carry a water bottle with you when you’re spending time outside, especially when caregiving for seniors. Avoid drinks like soda, coffee, and alcohol. These beverages are not hydration alternatives; in fact, they often speed up the dehydration process. If you sweat a lot while outside, drinking sweat replacement products that contain salt and potassium will help you stay hydrated.
2. Cool Down
When you’re feeling the heat is getting to you, take a cool, refreshing shower or bath. Caregivers can also give the seniors in their care a cold sponge bath as an alternative. If this is not an option, immerse a wet towel in cold water and press it against your neck, wrists, ankles, face, and armpits to help you cool down.
3. Plan Ahead
When record temperatures hit, you don’t want to get caught outside without water or shade and no way to get back inside quickly. Check the weather forecast so that you know what to expect and plan your day accordingly. On sweltering hot days, it can be a good plan to spend the day indoors. If possible, avoid the sun between 10 am and 4 pm when it’s at its hottest or take regular breaks inside.
4. Wear Sunscreen
It is recommended to always wear sunscreen when you go out into the sun, even if it’s just for a short walk around the block. Apply sunscreen of SPF30 or higher and make sure you cover all exposed areas. Also, make sure the sunscreen provide protection from both UVA and UVB rays in order to get the best protection possible. Since seniors often have sensitive skin, it’s a good idea to choose sunscreen that is specifically made for sensitive skin. If sunscreen is going to interact with topical medications seniors may be taking, an alternative is to cover up with lightweight clothing and a hat.
5. Dress Appropriately
Dark clothes absorb heat, so opt for light-colored clothes instead. Wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts that are loose fitting and made from a lightweight, breathable material like cotton will help keep anybody cool. Wearing a broad-brimmed hat will keep the sun away from your face and neck, and wearing sunglasses with UV protection will preserve your vision.
6. Check Your Medicine
Some medications make us more sensitive to the sun and heat. A good caregiving practice is to make sure you know what the side-effects of prescription medications are and take extra precautions if necessary. If the sensitivity becomes unbearable, discuss it with the doctor to see if there are alternatives that can be prescribed.
7. Install an Air Conditioner
When heat waves strike, the comfort air conditioning units can provide is priceless. The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) helps adults of 65 and older with limited income to cover the costs of air conditioners as well as utility bills. Contact them to see if you qualify. If installing an air conditioner is not an option, it can be helpful to spend the hottest time of the day in places where there are air conditioners, like the library, a friend’s house, or a community center.
8. Avoid Bug Bites
Seniors are more prone to contract Encephalitis and the West Nile Virus, which are spread by mosquitoes. When spending time outdoors in an area where mosquitoes are present, apply repellent to keep them away and reduce the risk of getting bit.
9. Stay in Touch
Make sure you have people looking out for you, especially if you know you’re going to spend some time outdoors. Make friends with your younger neighbors and ask them to check on you from time to time. If you plan on spending an extended period outside, like going for a walk alone or tending to the garden, let your family and friends know. Have emergency numbers ready so you can immediately call someone if you start to feel fuzzy. Alternatively, you can get a Home Care Agency to check on you a few times a day.
If you’re the caregiver, remember that you are the eyes and ears when it comes to summer safety precautions. People in your care will be relying on you to watch for things like signs of dehydration. Most importantly, the seniors in your care rely on your to be proactive and take preventive measures so that emergencies can be avoided altogether.
10. Look out for Warning Signs
Preparation is key to avoiding dangers from the summer heat and sun. The most common heat-related illnesses are dehydration, hyperthermia, and heat stroke:
Dehydration: We dehydrate if our bodies lose too much water, and it can become severe if not treated. Signs that you are suffering from dehydration include muscle cramps, headaches, weakness, dizziness, passing out, and confusion. If you suspect you or someone you’re with are suffering from dehydration, call 911 immediately. Drink lots of water and sports drinks containing salts or electrolytes.
Hyperthermia/heat stroke: These conditions are similar, but heat stroke is more serious than hyperthermia. You may suffer from one of these conditions if your body temperature rises above 103˚F. Heat stroke can be deadly if you don’t act quickly. Symptoms include red, hot, and dry skin, a fast pulse, headaches, no sweating, dizziness, nausea, confusion, and passing out. Call 911 immediately if these symptoms start to show, move into the shade, douse yourself with cold water, or apply a cold, wet cloth to your face, wrists, neck, and ankles to cool you down.
There’s absolutely no reason why seniors should spend all their time indoors when they get older. Going outside and spending time in the sun is good for our health, and as long as seniors or their caregivers are vigilant and prepared, seniors can have as much fun outside as anybody else. Feel free to contact Alegre Home Care if you need any assistance. Our caregivers and support staff are more than happy to help seniors spend some time having fun outside.