While summer is usually a time for gathering with loved ones, this year things are looking a little different. Even so, older adults are still finding ways to enjoy the outdoors – whether walking around the block, hosting a socially-distanced backyard barbeque or tending to the garden. Though time outside can improve mental and physical well-being, it’s especially important for seniors to be mindful of the season’s heat and humidity.
Extended exposure to the sun poses a risk for any age and older adults can be particularly sensitive. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 36 percent of heat-related deaths in the U.S. were attributed to individuals over 65. There are a variety of reasons for this. The physical changes and various medical conditions associated with aging can make it more difficult to notice when they feel hot, to sweat effectively or circulate blood properly.
After many months spent indoors, people are ready to get out and enjoy some fresh air and sunshine. It’s important to remember that while spending time outside is a seasonal perk that we should all take advantage of, it’s critical for seniors to be mindful of the heat and take proper safety precautions to avoid dehydration, exhaustion and other more serious side effects.
When temperatures start to climb above 90 degrees, everyone, especially older adults, should be wary of the potential implications of extreme heat and take preventative measures to safeguard themselves from heat-related illnesses and health risks.
Tips for seniors
1. Stay hydrated. Dehydration is a common risk for many aging adults, especially in the hotter months. While the Mayo Clinic recommends drinking at least eight glasses of water a day, seniors may need more to offset medications or conditions that make them more predisposed to dehydration. It's best to consult with a doctor about the correct amount before making any significant changes.
2. Fuel your body. Not all water intake needs to come from a glass. When it’s hot and humid outside, swap heavier meals with lighter options that feature lots of fruits and vegetables. Foods like cucumbers, tomatoes and strawberries are not only nutritious – they contain large amounts of water and can curb feelings of fatigue throughout the day.
3. Plan accordingly. Before you set out on your next outdoor adventure, review your local forecast for extreme heat alerts. When temperatures are high, stay indoors, or consider early morning or dusk when its coolest to enjoy open-air activities. If you or a loved one are outside and begin to feel unwell, stop and find a shady spot near trees or water to rest.
4. Dress to impress. Stay cool and fashionable this summer by accessorizing with items that help beat the heat. Pair loose-fitting, light colored clothing with sunglasses and a hat. And, don’t forget to protect yourself by applying sunscreen of 15 SPF or higher, at least 30 minutes prior to going outside. Reapply as directed.
5. Stay informed. With temperatures rising, it's important to take notice of warning signs and know the right way to respond. If you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms of heat stroke or exhaustion, such as nausea, headache, dizziness or confusion, call 911 immediately for medical assistance.
When the appropriate precautions are taken, summer can be fun for all, and outdoor activities can be a safe way for older adults to connect with loved ones while keeping social distance in mind. But safety should always come first. If it’s too hot, consider keeping busy with fun, solo indoor activities, such as maintaining a potted garden inside, starting a scrapbook or watching a classic summer film.
Julie Ann Soukoulis is the owner of Home Instead Senior care office in Rohnert Park, mother of two and passionate about healthy living at all ages. Having cared for her own two parents, she understands your struggles and aims, through her website, www.homeinstead.com/sonoma to educate and encourage seniors & caregivers. Have a caregiving or aging concern? She’d love to hear from you at 586-1516 anytime.