By Lori DeWese, BS, CDP, South Arkansas Center on Aging
As we age, we should be more aware of the potential health risks that are uniquely associated with both our age and the changing seasons. While people of all ages face specific health risks, seniors have particular health risks that need to be understood and monitored, especially in the heat of the summer. Below are some summer health tips for seniors as we finish the summer season:
1. Drink plenty of liquids — eight or more 8-ounce glasses per day of water to stay hydrated.
2. Avoid caffeinated (coffee, soda, even tea) and alcoholic beverages. These can make you dehydrated quickly. If at all possible, try to reduce the amount of these beverages, especially during hot weather. Plain or flavored water is a good substitute.
3. Dress appropriately. Wear loose-fitting clothes in natural fabrics like cotton. Dress in light colors that will reflect the sun and heat instead of darker colors that will attract them.
4. Sunblock. When outdoors, protect your skin from damage by wearing hats, sunglasses and a sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher.
5. Stay indoors during extreme heat. In extreme heat and high humidity, evaporation is slowed and the body must work extra hard to maintain a normal temperature.
6. Air conditioning. If you do not have air conditioning in your home, go somewhere that does. A movie theater, the mall, a friend or relative’s home or a community senior center are all good options.
7. Avoid extreme outdoor heat. If you need to get out of the house and don’t drive, call a taxi, a friend or a transportation service. Do NOT wait outside for the bus in extreme heat.
8. Take a cool shower or bath. If you are absolutely unable to leave the house and do not have air conditioning, take a cool bath or shower to lower your body temperature on extremely hot days.
9. Keep your home cool. Temperatures inside the home should not exceed 85 degrees Fahrenheit for prolonged periods of time.
10. Signs of heat stroke. Know the signs of heat stroke (e.g. flushed face, high body temperature, headache, nausea, rapid pulse, dizziness and confusion) and take immediate action if you feel them coming on.
Who’s At Risk?
Health and lifestyle may raise the threat of a heat-related illness, according to the National Institute of Aging. The following health factors may increase the risk for seniors:
• Poor circulation, inefficient sweat glands, and changes in the skin caused by normal aging
• Heart, lung, and kidney diseases, as well as any illness that causes weakness or fever
• High blood pressure or other conditions that require changes in diet; for example, people on low-salt diets may face an added risk (but don’t use salt pills without asking your doctor)
• The inability to perspire caused by some drugs, including diuretics, sedatives, tranquilizers, and certain heart and blood pressure medicines
• Taking several drugs at once for various conditions; don’t just stop taking them: Talk with your doctor
• Being substantially overweight or underweight
• Drinking alcoholic beverages
Take time this summer to check on aging loved ones and seniors residing in your neighborhood. Invite him or her into air conditioning, offer to take them to the mall, a movie or another cool building. Spend time with a loved one by inviting them to be an overnight guest. Do anything you can to help seniors beat the heat this summer!
n.d. “Ten Summer Health Tips for Seniors to Beat the Heat.” Associated Home Care. Beverly, Boston, Burlington, Leominster. Marblehead, Springfield, Worcester, Massachusetts. Accessed July 11, 2016. http://associatedhomecare.com/resources/10-summer-health-tips-for-seniors-to-beat-the-heat.