17 summer tips for the elderly
by Katie Callahan
With summer underway, everyone should take the necessary precautions when basking in those summer rays. Keep in mind these steps for a safe and enjoyable summer.
1. Avoid hyperthermia a.k.a heat related illnesses
Hyperthermia refers to heat stroke, heat fatigue or heat syncope (dizziness after exercising in the heat), heat cramps and heat exhaustion. The National Institutes of Health states that this risk is higher for elderly because the ability to efficiently respond to heat decreases with age.
Risk increases with poor blood circulation, inefficient sweat glands; heart, lung or kidney diseases; illnesses that cause weakness or fever; high blood pressure or conditions that require a change in diet; inability to perspire because of medications; being overweight or underweight; drinking alcohol or caffeine; and being dehydrated.
To avoid hyperthermia, NIH recommends that older people try to stay cool by staying indoors on humid or muggy days with lots of air pollution. They should go to air-conditioned locations if their house is not air conditioned, like the mall, movies or library. A friend or relative might also have an air-conditioned home. Some community, social services, religious groups and senior citizen centers also provide cooling centers or services.
2. Beware of asthma
Because of smog, air pollution, high pollen levels and increased mold growth to accompany the high humidity, adults with asthma should watch for a spike in asthma attacks but also continue to take their medications over the summer, said Dr. Adam Vella, assistant professor of pediatric emergency medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, to LiveScience. If air pollution and pollen levels are high, try to stay in a cool environment indoors.
3. Watch your food
Foodborne illnesses are estimated to be twice as common during the summer months, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Bacteria grows in hot and humid weather. The CDC says that older adults and those with a weakened immune system may be more susceptible to food poisoning (LiveScience).
Dr. Michael Stern, co-director of the geriatric emergency medicine fellowship at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, suggested to LiveScience that to avoid food poisoning, perishable foods should be refrigerated or in a cooler with ice. Food left out for more than two hours might not be safe to eat; food out for one hour in 90 degree weather should not be eaten.
4. Talk to your doctor about your meds
If taking medication, be sure it won't be affected by higher temperatures, especially if the home is not air conditioned, states Care.com. Check to be sure the medication you take won't be less effective if stored in temperatures higher than room temperature, and adjust accordingly to make sure that the condition it monitors won't become aggravated due to higher temperatures.
5. Communicate often with neighbors and family members
If spending time outdoors, older people should tell their family members or friends know. Communication is very important because hot weather can be dangerous for older people. Because of this, caregivers should check in at least twice a day, reports Dr. Javed to Care.com.
6. Prepare for the weather
It's important to wear lightweight (loose fitting), light-colored long sleeves to protect your skin from the sun, while also allowing it to breathe so you don't overheat. To keep the sun away from your face and neck, wear a wide-brimmed hat, suggests Compassionate Care. Even more so, be sure to wear sunscreen and sunglasses to keep your skin and eyes protected from the heat.
7. Stay hydrated
Drink eight to nine glasses of water a day unless told to limit intake by a physician for a condition, LiveScience reports. If you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated. As you age, your feeling of thirst decreases, says Compassionate Care, so increase your consumption if you are doing any movement.
8. Air conditioning is your new best friend
When it's 90 degrees or higher, stay inside where there is air conditioning. A fan will not provide enough cooling. HealthinAging.org notes that the federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance program can cover the cost of air conditioners and utility bills for aging individuals.
9. Go out early or late
If going outdoors, choose your time wisely. Before 10 a.m. or after 6 p.m. tend to be the coolest times of the day (A Place for Mom).
10. Limit challenging exercise
Easy Living suggests taking exercise indoors during the summer to a gym, treadmill or mall instead of outdoor walks or activities (swimming and water aerobics are good options as well). In general, avoid strenuous exercise. If you are going to go outside, take frequent water breaks from activity.
11. Know the signs
Heat stroke is accompanied by confusion, disorientation, dry skin, excessive tiredness, headache, lethargy, nausea and rapid pulse. If experiencing these symptoms, contact a medical professional immediately (Compassionate Care).
12. Check the heat index
A Place for Mom suggests looking on popular weather websites to determine how the weather actually feels because it will factor in humidity and temperature. With high humidity, the body has a harder time of regulating temperature.
13. Avoid alcohol and caffeine
Associated Homecare recommends reducing consumption of alcohol, soda, coffee and tea during warm weather and sticking to plain or flavored water instead.
14. Keep cool with a mid-temp shower
When feeling warm, HealthinAging.org recommends tepid showers, sponge baths, wet washcloths or towels on the wrists, ankles, armpits or neck.
15. Wear supportive shoes
While most people choose flip-flops or sandals, these shoes make individuals prone to trip even more at risk. Because older people tend to lose feeling in their toes and feet, stubbing a toe might not be felt until later and the injury might not be treated properly initially (InnovAge).
16. Watch for in-home hazards
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that in-home hazards that cause falls are the leading cause of injuries in people 65 and older. To avoid these falls, InnovAge recommends removing all throw rugs, avoiding extension cords; using highest wattage light bulbs not frosted bulbs which create shadows; installing railings on sides of staircases inside and outside; and using non-skid mats in showers and tubs (and consider handrails or chairs).
17. Keep the temp inside at 76 degrees
InnovAge reports that keeping the temperature in your home at 76 degrees (never exceeding 80 degrees) will keep older people from feeling to hot or too cold during the summer from the air conditioning or from the heat outdoors.