Extreme weather conditions are becoming more prevalent around the world. I’ve been watching weather reports where much of the country is under heat warnings and advisories with temperatures climbing to more than 100 degrees, and “feel like” temps exceeding 110.
As a resident of Florida for many years, I have grown more accustomed to intense heat and humidity, but that’s not to say it doesn’t affect me as I age or many of the seniors I know.
Think about it. Snowbirds who flock to Florida each winter to escape the extreme cold up North, promptly return to their northern homes in the spring to avoid Florida summers!
According to the National Institute of Health [NIH], “As we age, our ability to adequately respond to summer heat can become a serious problem. … Hyperthermia can include heat stroke, heat edema, heat syncope, heat cramps and heat exhaustion.”
Hyperthermia & Heat-Related Illnesses
- Hyperthermia –Opposite of hypothermia when the body becomes too cold, hyperthermia is when the body overheats and cannot release the heat that’s been absorbed.
- Heat Edema – Swelling in your ankles and feet when you get hot.
- Heat Syncope – Sudden dizziness after exercising in the heat.
- Heat Cramps – Painful, involuntary muscle spasms that usually occur during heavy exercise in hot environments.
- Heat Exhaustion – Occurs when the body overheats causing muscle weakness, cramps, heavy sweating, nausea, vomiting, a rapid pulse, lightheadedness, and/or fainting.
- Heat Stroke – The most severe of the heat-related illnesses, heatstroke requires medical attention immediately! When the body’s temperature exceeds 105 degrees and cannot sweat it causes confusion, agitation, and possibly an altered mental state, and loss of consciousness. Heat stroke may also include symptoms of red, dry skin, dizziness, fainting, slurred speech, and seizures.
I remember a study conducted at the University of Chicago Medical Center that found as many as 40% of heat-related deaths in the United States occurred among people aged 65 and older. That’s why I believe it’s important to review 10 summer safety tips for seniors to avoid heat-related illnesses.
- Stay Hydrated. This goes for anyone of any age, but most importantly for seniors and the elderly. It’s been my experience that aging adults don’t typically drink enough water as it is, but it’s especially critical since seniors are more likely to be dehydrated. This happens routinely with seniors because their bodies are unable to conserve as much water as they used to, and they don’t feel as thirsty. It is recommended seniors drink eight glasses of water or sports drinks each day and stay away from caffeinated and alcoholic beverages.
- Talk to a Doctor or Pharmacist. Most seniors take medications for any number of ailments or conditions, so be sure to consult a doctor or pharmacist to make sure spending time in the sun and heat will not cause negative reactions with prescribed meds, and gain clearance to participate in outdoor activities.
- Wear Proper Clothing. Grandma may pull on her polyester slacks every day, but she should select clothing that is lightweight, light-colored, and loose-fitting, preferably made from cotton or other natural fabrics. Wide-brimmed hats are also a good idea to shade the face, neck, and shoulders.
- Slather Sunscreen. Seniors who know they will be out in the hot sun should always liberally apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen that blocks UVA and UVB rays, SPF 30 or greater, a minimum of 15-20 minutes before going outdoors. If plans include water fun, bring it with you to reapply frequently to stay covered.
- Protect Your Peepers. Most seniors have some level of vision impairment anyway, but the sun’s dangerous rays can make vision even worse. Always wear sunglasses– prescription or otherwise – that protect your eyes from those dangerous rays.
- Stay Indoors During Crunch Times. Schedule tee times, water aerobics, walks, or other outdoor activities earlier in the morning, before 10:00 am, or during the evenings after the sun starts to set, and the heat of the sun doesn’t feel as hot. Here on the West Coast, evening times may be a bit later, depending upon where your activity is located.
- Stay Alert for Heat Stroke. Heat stroke can become fatal if not caught in time. Always be aware of the signs of heat stroke (noted above), and if these symptoms occur, seek immediate medical attention.
- Cool-off. A dip in the pool, lukewarm or tepid baths, sponge baths, or showers can help seniors cool off. If those are not viable options, consider using wet washcloths, towels, or store-bought “Frog Togs” dampened by cool water and apply to the neck, wrists, ankles, and armpits.
- Communicate with Family or Neighbors. If plans include an extended period of time outside, seniors should make sure a caregiver, family member, or neighbor knows about the activity. That way, a welfare check, or courtesy call can be scheduled to ensure the senior doesn’t get overheated and makes it back indoors, safe and sound.
- Air Conditioning Rules. I’ve been without air conditioning while living in Florida, and it is not a pleasant experience, trust me. If you can stay indoors in air-conditioned spaces, do so. If you do not have air conditioning, use fans to keep air circulating, but try to go someplace with a/c: a mall where you can window shop; a library for peaceful reading, a restaurant for an inexpensive senior meal; a movie theater for the latest box office hit; or maybe visit a friend or family member. (Remember: The federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) helps adults 65 and older who have limited incomes cover the cost of air conditioners and utility bills. To reach your state’s LIHEAP program, call 1-866-674-6327.)
I hope these 10 summer safety tips for seniors are helpful to you and/or the senior loved ones in your life. None of us wants to hear the tragic news of a special elderly adult perishing because of the heat. Remember to check on your senior family members and friends to make sure they are ok when the temperatures soar, too.
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National Institute of Health
Council on Aging