Summer Safety for Seniors
It’s summertime and the living is easy, but along with warmer temperatures and abundant sunshine, summer brings some special health considerations for seniors. Older adults are at risk for heat-related health problems for a variety of reasons, including chronic health conditions like heart disease or COPD, as well as age-related physical changes and the side effects of certain medications.
As we age, our bodies lose the ability to manage temperature changes efficiently, leading to conditions such as heat exhaustion and a severe condition called heat stroke, a medical emergency in which the body loses its ability to regulate temperature, resulting in high core temperature, confusion, rapid pulse and difficulty breathing. “Seniors are much more vulnerable to the harmful effects of heat, as their bodies do not adjust as well to sudden changes in temperature,” says Dr. Lubna Javed, formerly of HealthCare Partners Medical Group in Las Vegas. “Some chronic medical conditions and prescription medications can impair the body’s ability to react efficiently to rising temperature.” Many communities have cooling centers for those whose homes lack air conditioning, and libraries, movie theaters and shopping malls provide welcome cool spaces as well.
STAY IN TOUCH
For homebound seniors, having a trusted neighbor, family member or friend who checks in regularly can be an important safety measure in the summer. For those who enjoy working in a garden or taking a daily walk, both wonderful outdoor activities for older adults, having someone who knows your routine is vital. Keeping emergency phone numbers handy and sharing this information with a friend or neighbor can help in the event of a heat-related health emergency as well.
Since older adults often become less aware of thirst and bodies naturally lose the ability to conserve fluids, it is vital for seniors to stay hydrated, especially in the summer months and when exerting themselves. Being mindful of fluid intake can help prevent hyperthermia, and since some medications can exacerbate dehydration, making hydration a habit will help keep you healthier. Setting an alarm or a reminder to drink water can help to establish a routine.
Be sure to wear appropriate clothing and protective gear when engaging in outdoor activities. Sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses and loose fitting, light-colored clothing are all important accessories for older adults (as well as younger people!) when walking, gardening or simply spending time outdoors. Outdoor activities for older adults are a great way to stay active and stay healthy; however, be sure to dress for the weather and consider getting that outdoor exercise early in the morning or later in the evening when temperatures drop a bit and the sun isn’t quite as strong.