As temperatures rise, heat stroke and heat exhaustion become a real problem for the elderly and those over 65. Often finding themselves cold or finding a room chilly, they will overdress in layers reach for a long-sleeved shirt or pull on a favorite sweater. Improperly judging body temperatures, underlying health conditions and certain medications affect their ability to make prudent decisions in choosing indoor and outdoor clothing. Failure to adapt to heat when moving in and out of an air-conditioned home, office or vehicle creates further vulnerabilities. As care-givers keeping them safe, comfortable and protected during one of the hottest summers on record is easy. Begin by keeping them hydrated.
Hydration, particularly during the summer months is important, yet a lack of strong thirst signals leads the elderly to drink less water. “Researchers are not sure whether thirst signals from the body or the interpretation of these signals by the brain causes the problem.” We do know death due to dehydration is a public health problem for the elderly nationwide. Forcing someone to drink more water, or consistently reminding them to drink water can lead to emotional conflict – particularly in patients suffering psychological or behavioral disorders. Offer a variety of hot and cold drinks - coffee, tea, juices and sweet beverages bring variety, as do fruits, vegetables and hot and cold soups – all of which contain water.
Researchers have found, “As people age their stomach muscles weaken. So. when they consume water or food their stomach expands more in comparison to volume. When muscles are weaker, there is less sensory input telling them, they have eaten or drunk as much as they have. Signals come from other areas of the body, such as the back of the throat and that is also less sensitive with age… the study noted. The study concluded scheduled drinking may be a strategy to reduce the risk of dehydration although care should be exercised to avoid excessive water intake and the associated risks of cerebral swelling.”
Hydration is only one way to protect the elderly from overheating. As caregivers make a point of laying out a variety of clothing – easily put-on and removed. The 20th century has introduced a variety of breathable summer fabrics which protect from the sun and warm the body while allowing for perspiration. Cotton is a natural fabric allowing air to easily circulate through the fabric. Linens, Rayon, Tencel – a sustainable fabric, and blends are all help them stay cool. When choosing outerwear, chose easily accessed loose fitting garments. A shawl or light sweater while in an air-conditioned environment is easily removed when returning to the heat. Limiting outdoor time and controlling exposure to the sun is also important. Excessive heat and direct sunlight is a side effect of many diagnosis’s, over-the-counter and prescribed medications. Talk to a doctor or pharmacist as hotter days approach. Carefully planned vacations, outings and summer holidays will be a lot safer and a lot more fun for the entire family.
Lastly avoid strenuous outdoor activity. Seniors and the elderly might want to do more or participate in actives they are physically inapt to take on. At all levels of life we tend to feel younger than we actually are - this especially holds true for seniors and the elderly. Open, honest communications is a must. Explain expectations, environments and activates they can participate in, and when cruising, excursions they should avoid. Thanks to technology knowing weather conditions, heat indexes and hot spots to avoid is easier than ever. Knowing the warning signs of heat-related illnesses and heat stroke might be a little more challenging.
Although many will disagree, most seniors and the elderly will not tell you when they are feeling dizzy, nauseated, have a headache, chest pain or a rapid heartbeat. They don’t want to spoil it for everyone else, however their failure to talk about how they feel can be the biggest spoiler of all. Let them know it is ok to stop and rest, or to need an escape from sunlight and humidity. Likewise, let them and the family know grandma or grandpa may be left in the room or by the pool for a couple of hours.
Family reunions, family cruises and family vacations are all inclusive. Seniors and the elderly are traveling more than ever, yet everyone is not onboard. When scheduling events call ahead and read the small print. Seniors 65-80 have been denied travel insurance, seniors 70 and over have been denied certain airline seats, those with confirmed rental cars have been refused upon arrival and many excursions, activities and walking tours have age limitations.
A safe “hot” summer can be enjoyed by all with proper and extensive preparations - and leaving them at home is an option. Home Helpers Home Care offers 24/7 care – physical, psychological, medical and domestic. We offer suitable, appropriate events and activities for that loved one left behind.. Call us to learn more.