Summertime is here and for most people it’s a great time to be outside. All individuals, regardless of age, should be encouraged to reduce sedentary behavior and remain as active as possible, including enjoying the outdoors. However, as the mercury rises, the extra sunlight, high temperatures and humidity become added health concerns – especially for at-risk groups like seniors.
Aging poses some challenges related to exposure to hot weather and higher temperatures. The body’s ability to regulate its own temperature changes during aging and through medical problems that may go along with getting older. This increases the likelihood that one may become dehydrated. Adding in medications meant to help reduce excessive fluid in the body can result in real problems for older people.
The best defense against heat stress and related illnesses is being informed, prepared, and alert. Here are some great tips that aging adults, as well as their caregivers, can use to make sure they have a fun, safe summer as the temperatures climb.
Know the warning signs.
Be on the look out for common signs of heat exhaustion. If you notice any of the following symptoms, seek medical attention right away: heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, tiredness, weakness, dizziness, headache, nausea, vomiting, and fainting. Of course, the best approach is to follow precautionary measures to mitigate the effects of harsh heat rather than wait for your body to tell you.
Dehydration is a major concern for seniors in the heat of the day. Drink more water than usual and don’t wait until you feel thirsty. If your doctor generally limits the amount of fluid you drink or has you on water pills, ask how much you should drink while the weather is hot. Stay away from sugary drinks, caffeine, and alcohol. Caffeine works as a diuretic and depletes our bodies of much needed liquid. Consider a sports drink which can help replace the salt and minerals you lose when sweating. If you are on a low-salt diet, talk with your doctor before drinking a sports beverage.
Avoid direct sun exposure.
When the sun is blazing hot, it’s best to avoid being outdoors to prevent overheating, dehydration, and sunburn. If it’s too hot for your usual walk or bike ride, explore indoor-based activities at your local community center. Many Medicare plans may cover gym memberships, so be sure you’re getting the most out of your plan
When you do spend time in the sun, make sure you wear sunscreen to prevent a sunburn, and put on a hat with a wide brim and sunglasses to protect your eyes from harmful UV rays to preserve your vision.
Time it and take breaks.
Make the most out of early morning and evening hours – before 11 a.m. and after 4 p.m. – when temperatures are cooler to do outdoor activities such as gardening and walking. Take breaks from the heat in air-conditioned areas, if necessary.
Use the buddy system.
If you choose to do an outdoor activity when it’s hot, bring a friend. Besides enjoying each other’s company, you can rely on one another to stay alert to any signs of heat stress, or to get help if needed. High temperatures can be life-threatening, so communication plays an important role in ensuring safety. Seniors should let friends and family know if they’ll be spending an extended period of time outdoors, even if they’re only gardening. Caregivers should check on the health and welfare of their loved ones at least twice a day.
Get in touch with those who live in your neighborhood and learn a bit about them and their schedules. If you’re a senior, see if a younger neighbor — perhaps even one of their children — can come by and check on you occasionally to make sure everything is all right. The extra company and friendship that can result is a bonus!
Skip the stove.
Cooking can heat up your living space quickly, so avoid turning on the stove or oven when it’s very hot. Cold foods like salad, fresh fruit, and yogurt can be healthy and convenient options when the mercury rises.
If you follow these tips, there’s no reason you can’t have an enjoyable and fun-filled summer — no matter how old you are. There are simple ways to enjoy the summertime without worry. Live your life to the fullest!