Summer is almost here! The grass is getting greener, the fields are full of wildflowers, and you can hear birds singing in every tree. Summer is a time for outdoor activities, fresh fruit, and fireworks. Most of all, summer means heat! However, just like any season, there are safety concerns that need to be considered, especially for senior citizens.
The Risks of Heat
Anyone can suffer illness due to excessive exposure to heat, but seniors are especially at risk. Aging causes the body’s natural cooling system, your sweat glands, to become less effective. The elderly can overheat quickly and may have a hard time cooling down. Additionally, common ailments of aging, like poor blood circulation, reduced sodium diets, and certain medications, compromise the body’s ability to cool itself down. The elderly have to exercise much more caution when exposed to heat. Excessive heat can cause:
- Fainting – heat can cause a rapid drop in blood pressure.
- Heat Cramps – an imbalance of the body’s salt causes cramping, especially in the legs.
- Heat Exhaustion – a rising body temperature, not above 102 degrees, causes dizziness and fatigue.
- Heat Stroke – when the body temperature exceeds 105 degrees, causing lethargy, confusion, or loss of consciousness.
Summer Safety Tips for Seniors
- Stay well hydrated - Water is absolutely essential in hot weather. Avoid alcohol and caffeine as they will further dehydrate the body.
- Dress in light layers – Protecting your skin from the sun will help keep your body temperature regulated and prevent sun burns. Wear breathable light colored fabrics that will reflect the sun’s heat away from you.
- Avoid strenuous activity - Part of the fun of summer is getting outside and doing things. But, seniors can overheat quickly and find themselves in a dangerous medical crisis. Take precautions if you will be outside for longer periods of time – take breaks, drink plenty of water, and dress appropriately.
- Run an air conditioner – While not everyone has this option, if you are living in a home with air conditioning, you should use it! Because of the expense of using an air conditioner, many seniors chose to not run their air, even when outside temperatures spike. It isn’t necessary to run the air all day long at a low setting to experience health benefits. At night, open windows and run fans, but during the peak of the day’s heat, it is best to put health and safety first by running the air conditioner. For those who do not have an air conditioner – make an attempt to spend several hours a day in an air conditioned building – like a library, senior center, the mall, or a movie theater. Even these few hours will help regulate body temperature. You can help keep your house cooler by covering windows, running fans, and leaving windows open.
- Have a buddy system – because heat can cause confusion, dizziness, and even loss of consciousness, it is important to check in on friends and family. Especially for seniors, a heat illness can come on before they are able to ask for help. Throughout the summer, make frequent check-in calls and plans to visit.