Summer is known as a season of fun and relaxation. It is a time for gardening, cookouts, and time outdoors. However, while the sun and heat can be potentially dangerous for anyone, summer can especially pose a particular threat for seniors.
According to the National Weather Service, adults ages 50 and up account for 70% of all heat related deaths. As we age, our bodies naturally lose the ability to sweat and regulate temperature, which means seniors are especially prone to issues such as dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. Furthermore, health factors such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and poor circulation can exasperate a senior’s risk during the summer months.
Our staff works hard through the summer to ensure our patients stay safe and healthy. Here are five summer health tips for not just what we provide our patients, but for everyone looking to be aware of the health hazards of summer. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! It is important to drink water and to drink it often. Aim to drink at least 6-8 cups a day, more if possible. Once a person feels thirsty, they are most likely already dehydrated so we encourage all our patients to be drinking before that point. Avoid alcoholic and caffeinated beverages, as they contribute to dehydration and remember that while drinks like pop and lemonade taste great, they are never a replacement for water.
Seniors, especially, often find their feeling of thirst decreases as they age. Caregivers should ensure that they always have water with them, especially if they are participating in activities which cause them to sweat. Individuals living with Alzheimer’s or other dementia have an increased risk of dehydration as they often forget to drink water. Therefore, it’s specifically important to remind them to drink water throughout the day. Wear the right clothes . We encourage our patients to be mindful of clothing choice during the summer months. We suggest wearing light colored layers to ensure comfort in both outdoor and indoor environments. Lightweight, breathable fabric, like cotton is always a good option and long sleeves can limit sun exposure. (If wearing short sleeves, be sure to wear sunscreen!) Accessories such as hats and sunglasses also provide an additional layer of protection. Plan indoor activities. While we love seeing our patients enjoy the outdoors, we always make sure there are plenty of indoor activities to enjoy as well. Air conditioned places like a family or friend’s home, libraries, or senior centers are great alternatives to spending prolonged time outside. These places are especially important if our patients do not have air conditioning. The sun is strongest between 10 am and 4 pm, so if they must be outdoors, we encourage our patients to plan to be outside during the morning and evening. Cool down the house. If our patients have air conditioning, we suggest keeping it below 76 degrees during the summer months. When cost is a concern, we have our patients contact their local Department on Aging or utility companies to inquire about budget options for seniors. If there is no air conditioning, we instruct our patients to cover up windows to block the sun during the day and open windows at night to let in cool air; it is also important place fans throughout the house. Finally, a cool shower is always a great help when trying to cool down in a non-air conditioned house. Stay connected. Finally, we encourage our caregivers to connect with loved ones and neighbors throughout the summer, particularly those who do not have air conditioning. We recommend checking in at least twice a day. If a loved one does not live nearby, reach out to a neighbor or friend in the area to see if they can touch base. Lastly, provide a list of contacts to contact in case of an emergency. The summer months can be a great chance for seniors to reconnect with friends and family, preferably in cool, indoor, and air conditioned places. Looking for more resources? Check out this article for some more great summer health tips. And, as always, do not hesitate to reach out to our team if you are needing support during these summer months.