Staying Safe in the Sun: Summer Safety Tips for Seniors


Everyone loves summer, but there are dangers to soaking up the summer. The nice weather, the warm temperatures, and the bright sunny days make for a pleasant time of year when people love to be outside. Summer safety tips for seniors can help caregivers provide their clients with enjoyable summer activities while not putting them at risk for things like heat stroke and dehydration.

As the body ages, some of its systems no longer work the same and this can present very real dangers with exposure to temperature extremes and sunlight. While seniors can certainly enjoy summer activities, it is vital to understand effects that are unique to seniors and how to avoid the dangers that exist during this season.

Heat Stroke and Exhaustion

Due to lowered circulation and thinning of the fatty tissues under the skin, the aging body is more susceptible to temperature changes. This leaves many seniors with a constant feeling that they are cold in even the warmest of environments. It may sound like an oxymoron but that inability to feel warm puts these seniors at risk for heatstroke and exhaustion.

An older client may not feel hot and so they tend to stay out in the extreme temperatures for much longer periods of time than they should. Unfortunately, their bodies can not adapt to this prolonged exposure to higher temperatures and they often become victims of heatstroke, heat exhaustion and other heat related illnesses.

To avoid these problems, home caregivers can:

  • try to keep clients in shaded areas

  • regularly check on their clients while they are outside

  • provide plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration

  • try to limit exposure times

  • schedule outdoor activities during the cooler parts of the morning or evening rather than during the higher mid-day temperatures.

Dehydration

Another primary concern when talking about senior sun safety is dehydration. Many seniors limit their fluid intake to avoid excess urination or embarrassing accidents. In some cases, this practice leaves them on the verge of dehydration year round and summertime temperature extremes only serve to heighten the problem. As a home caregiver for seniors, try to encourage drinking more fluids by offering their preferred beverages and help your clients to avoid potential embarrassment by visiting the restroom more frequently. Your diligence in making sure they stay hydrated can be the difference between a pleasant outing and a trip to the emergency room.

Sunburn

As mentioned earlier, the skin of elderly adults has undergone some changes over time. This leaves seniors vulnerable to the dangerous rays of the sun. Sunburns may be a slight nuisance for a younger individual but they can be quite problematic for seniors. In fact, studies have shown that the majority of UV exposure occurs after age 40 due to changes in the skin and body structure. This exposure to the sun can exacerbate the growth of skin cancers and promote aging of the skin as the UV light breaks down the elastin in the skin. This is a reason why knowing sun safety tips for seniors is important for caregivers.

Sunlight is comprised of two forms of UV light, UVA and UVB. UVA is responsible for premature aging of the skin, discoloration and wrinkles. This form of UV light can pass through window glass. UVB is the form which causes sunburns and it cannot pass through window glass. Your older clients who enjoy sitting in a sunroom or at the picture window all day may be protected from sunburns but are still putting their skin at risk. The use of a broad spectrum sunscreen can be helpful in preserving their skin and lowering the risks of certain cancers.

Home caregivers can further help by practicing sun safety tips for seniors:

  • Apply (and re-apply) sunscreen. A single sunscreen application can protect for up to two hours. Apply the sunscreen 15 minutes before the client heads outside for best results. For most individuals, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends 1 ounce of SPF30 or higher sunscreen per application and the application process should include all body parts that are not covered in clothing.

  • Utilize protective clothing and hats when available to limit sun exposure.

  • Sunburns and UV exposure can occur anytime a client is outside. Even overcast days present a risk so never hesitate to encourage the use of sunscreen.

  • Shaded areas greatly reduce sun and temperature exposure risks for older adults. These shade sources could include the natural shade from trees or a portable sun umbrella.

  • Sand and water reflect and intensify the harmful rays of the sun. If a beach or waterfront outing is planned, it is vital to put your senior sun safety plan into action.

  • Be aware of your clients’ medications. Side effects to some medicines include heightened sensitivity to heat or sunlight exposure which present very specific concerns.

Water Safety

More and more seniors are adding aquatic exercise routines to their lives as a way to stay more mobile, increase social interaction, and feel younger. While the exercise is commendable, it does present risks as well. With limited mobility and other medical conditions, the risk of drowning is higher for seniors. An Australian study of 506 drowning incidents among elderly adults concluded that 69.0% of the drownings involved contributing medical conditions, including cardiovascular disease, dementia, depression, epilepsy, and Parkinson’s disease.

Accidental drowning from falls into the water and cardiovascular issues during swimming accounted for the largest number of deaths. While the study concluded that aquatic activities were safe for aging adults, it confirmed the need for education and awareness amongst both the seniors with Parkinson's and their caregivers. (SOURCE: http://journals.lww.com/har-journal/Fulltext/2017/03000/Fatal,_unintentional_drowning_in_older_people___an.2.aspx )

Summer Safety Tips for Seniors

Providing care for seniors in the home caregiving environment during the summer months presents special obstacles. Setting up an adequate safety plan using these summer safety tips for seniors is a great way to circumvent these obstacles and help seniors enjoy their time in the sun.

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