12 Summer Safety Tips for the Elderly
Prepare yourself or older friends and family members for the sweltering summer months.
The summertime is a time of fun and relaxation for most people. But for seniors, the heat and sun can be dangerous if the proper precautions aren't taken. Here are some great tips that the elderly, as well as their caregivers, can use to make sure they have a fun, safe summer.
- Stay Hydrated
Seniors are more susceptible to dehydration than younger people because they lose their ability to conserve water as they age. They also can become less aware of their thirst and have difficulty adjusting to temperature changes. Remember to drink water often, and be sure to pack some for those long summer drives.
Dr. William Greenough, of Johns Hopkins Geriatric Center, says that caregivers should make sure seniors are drinking sweat replacement products (that contain salt and potassium) to replace water they lose during the summer.
Talk to Your Doctor
Check with your medical team to make sure any medications you are on won't be affected by higher temperatures -- especially if you don't have air conditioning in your home. Some medications are less effective if stored at temperatures higher than room temperature (approximately 78 degrees Fahrenheit), and the last thing anyone wants is for a preventable medical condition to become aggravated due to high temperatures.
Keep Your Cool
Even small increases in temperature can shorten the life expectancy for seniors who are coping with chronic medical conditions. Shopping malls, movie theaters and libraries provide welcome, cool spaces if a senior’s own home isn’t air conditioned. They also afford a great opportunity to get out of the house and get some exercise, without the exhaustion of the heat. Contact your local Area Agency on Aging to inquire if there are any programs to assist seniors with fewer resources to get air conditioners. "Seniors are much more vulnerable to the harmful effects of heat, as their bodies do not adjust as well to sudden changes in temperature," shares Dr. Lubna Javed of HealthCare Partners Medical Group. "Some chronic medical conditions and prescription medications can impair the body’s ability to react efficiently to rising temperature."
Stay in Touch
High temperatures can be life-threatening, so communication plays an important role in ensuring the safety of the elderly. For seniors, you should let friends and family know if you'll be spending an extended period of time outdoors, even if you're only gardening.
"Caregivers should check on the health and welfare of their loved ones at least twice a day," suggests Dr. Javed.
Meet Your Neighbors
Get in touch with those who live in your neighborhood and learn a bit about them and their schedules. If you are elderly, see if a younger neighbor -- perhaps even one of their kids -- 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!
Know Who to Call
Prepare a list of emergency phone numbers and place them in an easy to access area. This way, the right people can be called to help quickly preventing any further issues or preventing medical problems from getting worse.
Fill out this Senior Care Emergency Checklist.
Wear the Right Stuff
Everyone, including seniors, should dress for the weather. When it's warm out, some people find natural fabrics (such as cotton) to be cooler than synthetic fibers. Stock your summer wardrobe with light-colored and loose-fitting clothes to help feel cooler and more comfortable.
Protect Your Eyes
Vision loss can be common among the elderly, and too much exposure to the sun can irritate eyes and cause further damage. Wearing sunglasses can protect your eyes from harmful UV rays and preserve your vision.
Know the Risks of Hyperthermia
During the summer, be particularly cautious about abnormally high body temperatures -- a condition known as hyperthermia. Heat stroke is an advanced form of hyperthermia that can be life-threatening. Make sure to know the warning signs and get medical attention immediately if you or anyone you know is experiencing these symptoms:
- Body temperature greater than 104 degrees
- A change in behaviour, such as acting confused, agitated or grouchy
- Dry, flushed skin
- Nausea and vomiting
- Heavy breathing or a rapid pulse
- Not sweating, even if it's hot out
"Elderly individuals have a harder time knowing when they are dehydrated and their bodies have more difficulty regulating their temperatures," says Dr. Ronan Factora of the Cleveland Clinic says. "As a result, they are more prone to heat stroke."
If you (or an elderly loved one) start to feel any of these symptoms, ask for medical help and then get out of the heat, lie down and place ice packs on your body.
Rub on Sunscreen and Wear Hats
Everyone, young and old, should wear sunscreen when outdoors. The elderly especially need the extra sun protection to help keep them healthy. Caregivers, family and friends can help by gently reminding loved ones about applying sunscreen and helping to put it on when necessary. Hats are also a great idea, especially for those with light colored hair and those with only distant memories of a full head of hair.
Apply Bug Spray
The elderly is particularly prone to West Nile Virus and encephalitis, Dr. Factora notes. If you live in areas where there are a lot of mosquitoes and where West Nile Virus is present, and if you spend a lot of time outdoors (particularly at night), use mosquito repellent to help reduce the risk of getting bit by a mosquito carrying this virus.
If you enjoy outdoor activities such as walking or gardening, make sure to wear the proper clothing and protective gear. It is also important to keep track of time. Do not stay out for long periods and make sure to drink even more water than usual when exercising. Also consider getting outdoor exercise earlier in the morning or later in the evening when the sun is not at its peak.
Read more about Exercise and Fitness for Seniors.
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.
Gillian Kruse is a freelance writer in Houston.