Summertime is a time of fun and relaxation for most people, but for seniors, the heat and sun can be dangerous if the proper precautions aren't taken.
According to the Center for Disease Control, people ages 65 and older are more prone to heat-related health problems.
Older adults do not adjust as well as young people to sudden changes in temperature, according to the CDC. They are more likely to have a chronic medical condition that changes normal body responses to heat. They are also more likely to take prescription medicines that affect the body’s ability to control its temperature or sweat.
Here are some tips that aging adults, as well as their caregivers, can use to make sure they have a fun, safe summer.
Seniors are more susceptible to dehydration than younger people because they lose their ability to conserve water as they age. They can also become less aware of their thirst and have difficulty adjusting to temperature changes. Remember to drink water often, and be sure to pack some for those long summer drives.
Talk to your doctor
Check with your medical team to make sure any medications you are on won't be affected by higher temperatures, especially if you don't have air conditioning in your home.
Some medications are less effective if stored at temperatures higher than room temperature – about 78 degrees – and the last thing anyone wants is for a preventable medical condition to become aggravated because of high temperatures.
Keep your cool
Even small increases in temperature can shorten the life expectancy of seniors who are coping with chronic medical conditions. Shopping malls, movie theaters and libraries provide welcome, cool spaces if a senior’s own home isn’t air-conditioned. Those places also afford a great opportunity to get out of the house and get some exercise without the exhaustion or the heat.
Seniors also can contact the Three Rivers Regional Commission (TRRC) at 1-866-854-5652 to learn about programs that help seniors with limited resources get air conditioners.
Stay in touch
High temperatures can be life-threatening, so communication plays an important role in ensuring the safety of aging adults. Seniors should let friends and family know if they'll be spending an extended period of time outdoors, even if they're only gardening.
Healthcare professionals recommend families and caregivers check on the health and welfare of their loved ones at least twice a day.
Meet your neighbors
Get in touch with those who live in your neighborhood and learn a bit about them and their schedules. If you're a senior, see if a younger neighbor – perhaps even one of their kids – can come by and check on you occasionally to make sure everything is all right. The extra company and friendship that can result is a bonus.
Know who to call
Prepare a list of emergency phone numbers and place them in an easy-to-access area. This way, the right people can be called to help quickly preventing any further issues or preventing medical problems from getting worse.
Wear the right stuff
Everyone, including seniors, should dress for the weather. When it's warm out, some people find natural fabrics such as cotton to be cooler than synthetic fibers. Stock your summer wardrobe with light-colored and loose-fitting clothes to help feel cooler and more comfortable.
Protect your eyes
Vision loss can be common among seniors, and too much exposure to the sun can irritate eyes and cause further damage. Wearing sunglasses can protect your eyes from harmful UV rays and preserve your vision.
Know the risks of hyperthermia
During the summer, be particularly cautious about abnormally high body temperatures, a condition known as hyperthermia. Heat stroke is an advanced form of hyperthermia that can be life-threatening.
Make sure to know the warning signs and get medical attention immediately if you or anyone you know experience these symptoms:
• Body temperature greater than 104 degrees
• A change in behavior, such as acting confused, agitated or grouchy
• Dry, flushed skin
• Nausea and vomiting
• Heavy breathing or a rapid pulse
• Not sweating, even if it's hot out
Put on sunscreen and wear hats
Everyone, young and old, should wear sunscreen when outdoors. Seniors especially need the extra sun protection to help keep them healthy.
Caregivers, family and friends can help by gently reminding loved ones about applying sunscreen and helping to put it on when necessary. Hats are also a great idea, especially for those with light-colored hair and those with only distant memories of a full head of hair.
Apply bug spray
If you live in areas where there are a lot of mosquitoes and where West Nile Virus is present, and if you spend a lot of time outdoors – particularly at night – use mosquito repellent to help reduce the risk of getting bitten by a mosquito carrying this virus.
If you enjoy outdoor activities, such as walking or gardening, make sure to wear the proper clothing and protective gear. It's also important to keep track of time.
Don't stay out for long periods and make sure to drink more water than usual when exercising. Also, consider getting outdoor exercise earlier in the morning or later in the evening, when the sun is not at its peak.
If you follow these tips, there's no reason you can't have an enjoyable and fun-filled summer – no matter how old you are.
Kandice Bell, Newnan Times-Herald reporter, contributed to this article.