July 20, 2019 – Summer is here and warmer weather is the perfect time for families to enjoy outdoor activities such as gardening and picnics. However, for seniors, extreme temperatures during the summer months can pose health risks. In fact, the CDC notes that adults 65 and older do not adjust as well as young people to sudden changes in temperature, making them more vulnerable to heat related health problems such as heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, sunburn and heat rash.
“June through September is when most families plan trips and spend extended periods of time outdoors,” said Lakelyn Hogan, Gerontologist and Caregiver Advocate of Home Instead Senior Care. “It’s important for older adults to participate in these family activities, while taking the steps necessary to ensure their comfort and safety. Be sure your loved one takes frequent indoor breaks, carries and properly stores medications, and wears light colored clothing.”
Home Instead encourages families to take the following steps to help keep their loved ones safe this summer:
- Make sure your aging loved one takes preventive health measures – like preparing for summer heat exposure by choosing protective clothing. Mayo Clinic recommends wearing loose-fitting, lightweight clothing to allow the body to better cool itself naturally. Adding a broad-brimmed hat or cap can also help keep internal temperatures low and protect from sunburn – a condition that heightens the risk of heat stroke by reducing the skin’s ability to regulate heat.
- Plan ahead to avoid strenuous activity during the hottest parts of the day. Many activities such as running errands or visiting friends and family members can be scheduled for the morning or evening hours, when temperatures are lower and the sun’s rays are less direct. If the time cannot be adjusted, stay hydrated and rest frequently in a cool area to avoid the increased risk of overheating.
- Pay attention to symptoms of heat-related health problems. The University of Connecticut found that older adults are the most susceptible demographic to dehydration due to reduced kidney function that occurs naturally as we age, as well as the frequent use of diuretics often taken for high blood pressure. Be aware of muscle cramps, dizziness, headaches, constipation or impaired memory or concentration function, which can signal dehydration. Also watch for the symptoms of heat stroke; high body temperature, confusion or slurred speech, flushed skin, rapid breathing and a headache.
- Take action to cool someone experiencing heat-related symptoms. Once a symptom is identified, immediate action is critical to treat the senior and prevent escalation. Mayo Clinic shares three steps:
- Get the person in the shade, indoors and out of the heat
- Remove any excess clothing to help the body breathe
- Cool the person with whatever means available (e.g. place a wet towel on the person’s head, neck or armpits or submerge the individual in cool water)
- Monitor and/or assist with medications. According to a recent survey of seniors conducted by Home Instead, many seniors taking five or more prescription medications admit challenges in managing their medications. Education programs such as Let’s Talk about RxSM provide families with resources to help manage medications more efficiently and avoid any mishaps. This is particularly important during the summer months, as some prescribed medications may affect a senior’s natural ability to stay hydrated and dissipate heat. Talk with your senior and their doctor about any increased risks connected to medications.
Additional free family resources and additional information on summer safety tips for seniors, visit https://www.caregiverstress.com/