Summer is something most people look forward to all year long. Beach vacations, days by the pool, cooking on the grill – there really is no limit to the fun things you can do once the weather warms up!
But for older adults, summer isn’t always enjoyable. In fact, for many seniors, hot weather can be downright dangerous. According to the CDC, people aged 65 and older are at far greater risk for heat-related illness and death – between 1999 and 2010 alone, 36% of all heat-related deaths occurred in older adults. The only risk factor that ranked higher was being male.
Luckily, with a little forethought and planning, older adults can enjoy most of the same warm weather activities as everyone else. Here are eight safety tips for a fun and healthy summer:
- Stay hydrated
Dehydration is a problem for many seniors all year long, but especially during the warmer months. Why? Because as we age, humans become less sensitive to the feeling of thirst.
During summer, it is important to keep track of what you’re drinking and make sure you hit that important 6-to-8-glasses-a-day benchmark (more if it’s extremely hot or you’re going to be outside). Keep in mind, it doesn’t have to be just water: Fruit juices, teas, ice pops, and even fruits and vegetables can help you meet the mark.
- Dress appropriately
Whenever possible, try to dress in loose, light-colored clothing (darker colors absorb the heat). Avoid synthetic fabrics, which can hold in moisture and heat, and opt for lighter materials like linen or silk. Top off your outfit with a broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses, and you’ll be good to go (some people even like to carry an umbrella on especially sunny days to help avoid exposure).
- Don’t forget the sunscreen
Whenever you’re heading outdoors (even if you’re not going to be in the sun for a long time), slather on a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher. To help ensure you never forget, keep a bottle in your purse or in the car at all times, and set an alarm on your phone to remind you to reapply.
- Talk to your doctor
Check with your doctor to make sure any medications you’re on won’t make you more sensitive to the sun. If so, you may need to take extra precautions or avoid certain activities all together. In addition, certain medications are less effective if stored at temperatures high than about 78°, which is something to consider if you don’t have air conditioning.
- Use air conditioning when possible
Many seniors are on a tight budget and try to avoid using air conditioning when they can, but summer heat waves can be dangerous without climate control. In New Jersey, it’s not uncommon for temperatures to remain in the 80s overnight. If you don’t have central air and can’t afford to buy a window unit, 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.
- Cool down
After a long hot day outside, taking a cool (not cold!) shower or bath can help your body get back to a normal temperature. Don’t have the time? A cool, damp washcloth on your neck, ankles, wrists, and armpits is almost as beneficial.
- Know when to stay indoors
When the temperature climbs above 90°, sometimes the best bet is to stay in the house or find a fun indoor activity. Summer doesn’t have to mean sitting outside in the sun all day long. Spending an afternoon in a nice, air-conditioned movie theater or library, or having lunch at your favorite restaurant can be just as enjoyable. If you absolutely must go out, head out early in the morning or wait until the sun starts to set.
- Recognize the warning signs for heat-related illness
Even with the best precautions, sometimes accidents occur. It’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms of heat-related illness so you can get treatment as soon as possible. Here are a few of the health problems caused by too much heat:
- Dehydration: A loss of water in your body, which can be serious if not treated appropriately. Signs may include extreme thirst, dizziness, headache, muscle cramps, and passing out. To avoid illness, drink plenty of water or sports drinks, which include electrolytes.
- Heat stroke: A very dangerous rise in body temperature, heat stroke can be deadly. Warning signs may be similar to dehydration, including dizziness, headache, and passing out. However, heat stroke occurs when the body’s temperature reaches 103 or higher, and red, hot skin will be noticeable. If heat stroke is suspected, call 911 immediately.
- Heat exhaustion: A serious health problem caused by too much heat exposure in conjunction with dehydration. Warning signs may include dizziness, clammy skin, fast and weak pulse, weakness, muscle cramps, and either heavy sweating or no sweating. If not treated, heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke. If illness is suspected, move to a cool, shady area and drink plenty of fluids.
It is important to note that in the elderly, any of the above problems can be far more serious than it is for a younger adult. It is always wise to call the doctor or seek medical treatment in the case of heat-related illness, just to be safe.