Summer Safety Tips for Seniors
Summertime brings lots of fun in the sun. As this summer season approaches, be mindful to take good care and stay hydrated to protect yourself against the heat.
Every year over 600 Americans die from heat related problems, 80% of those deaths being individuals over the age of 60. It is medically advised that older adults take precautions at temperatures of 80 degrees Fahrenheit and higher, as many find they suffer health complications caused by the summer heat.
Let’s take a look at summer safety for seniors and ways to minimize heat risks.
How to Protect Yourself When Outside
The number one tool to combat any heat complication is hydration. Older adults are more likely to suffer dehydration, as people lose their ability to conserve water with age. Frequent hydration keeps the body’s temperature at a normal level and helps the body function well despite changes in temperature outside.
The standard suggestion for daily water intake is 6-8 glasses a day, but if you’re planning to be in the sun a long time then it’s advised you drink more than the standard suggestion. When outdoors, bring extra fluids and water as backup, and avoid liquids that can be dehydrating such as soda, coffee and alcohol. Sports drinks or beverages that contain electrolytes are especially useful for replenishing salt and sugar, which gets eliminated from the body through sweating.
Schedule a Check-Up
Visit with your doctor to determine if any medications or health complications in your life might put you at increased risk for heat complications. Regular check-ups with a primary care provider can prevent illness and monitor chronic health flares.
Protect against Summer Pests with Bug Repellant and Proper Clothing.
Some mosquitoes and other pests can carry diseases and are especially active during the summer months of July, August and September. With weakened immune systems, seniors are at higher risk from these pests. If outdoors or near wooded areas, especially during dawn or dusk, make sure insect repellant is handy and in use.
Ways to Stay Cool Without AC
Older people with chronic medical conditions are at greater risk from small temperature increases. Studies have shown even minor temperature changes during the season can shorten life expectancy for compromised seniors. If you don’t have access to air-conditioning at home, there are many public places you can visit that will be cool during the summer season. Buildings and gathering places such as shopping malls, senior centers, libraries, grocery stores and movie theaters have controlled temperatures that are kept lower in the summer months. This might be a good time to plan a field trip!
Best Times to be Outdoors
When is it too hot to go out? Are some hours better than others? Experts believe the sun is strongest between 10am and 4pm. Avoid direct sunlight and strenuous outdoor activity during those times and practice staying indoors if possible. If you are outdoors, wear sunscreen with SPF 30+ and a hat or sunglasses to protect both skin and eyes. Wide brimmed hats that cover the face and neck are especially helpful combined with sunglasses that protect against UVA and UVB rays. Don’t forget hard to reach places such as ears, upper lips, tops of feet and backs of hands.
On especially hot days, wear pants and long-sleeve shirts for additional sun protection. To avoid overheating, choose clothing that is light-colored and loose, to prevent chaffing. Take frequent breaks to cool down, hydrate, and let the body recover from any exhaustion the heat is causing.
It’s important to check the forecast before you go out. If it’s over 100 degrees, it might be too dangerous to be outdoors. Check the weather and dress appropriately. When planning, make sure to pick places that also have shady and cool spaces to lounge in, in case the sun becomes overwhelming. While in a park, sit under a tree with dense foliage. If you do feel you are suffering heat exhaustion, keep a close eye on symptoms and progress of fatigue.
Warning Signs for Heat Complications
If you do plan on spending a lot of time outdoors, or live in a home without air conditioning, make sure to take precautions with the heat and remain self-aware of your body. Here are some warning signs for different heat related issues and how to spot them:
Dehydration is caused by a loss of water in the body, and can be exacerbated in hot and dry conditions. When one becomes dehydrated they may experience cramps, dizziness, confusion and eventually will pass out. It’s important to take hydration seriously and drink plenty of water and sports drinks, such as Gatorade, that contain electrolytes to help replenish your body’s internal balance.
Caused by extreme temperatures, heat syncope causes fainting. Warning signs include both dizziness and fainting. If you are experiencing the onset of dizziness, sit down, put your feet up and consume water or other cool fluids to lower your body’s temperature.
A problem caused by dehydration combined with overheating, heat exhaustion can eventually lead to heat stroke if untreated. Warning signs include muscle cramps, weakness, paleness, nausea, vomiting, fainting, and a low fever up to 104. If you believe you are experiencing heat exhaustion, quickly move to a cool, dry place to sit and begin to drink plenty of cool fluids like water and sports drinks.
Caused by a dramatic increase in body temperature, heat stroke can happen gradually over days of heat climbing. Symptoms include a fever of 104 or over combined with red, dry skin, a fast pulse, headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, confusion and passing out. If you think you have heat stroke it’s important to seek medical attention immediately. Call 911 and while waiting for help, go to a shady, cool place and remove heavy clothing. Soak the body in cool water and sip lightly on water if you can.
Don’t be Alone
One final precaution during the summer months is to limit alone time on hot days, and to always check in with someone if you are alone during the day. The dangers of heat waves are made worse when nobody is around to check in with you in case of an emergency, such as fainting or dizzy spells.
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