Keeping cool and hydrated are essential for everyone to keep in mind during the hot summer months, but it is extremely important for the health of our seniors.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every year the US averages over 650 heat-related deaths, all preventable. People over the age of 65 are even more susceptible to heat-related deaths, as our bodies become less efficient at regulating body temperature as we age.
When the temperature rises, it is important to be aware of the elderly and heat intolerance. By understanding and following some basic summer health tips for seniors, we can ensure safe and comfortable elderly care in hot weather.
Summer Safety Tips for Seniors
1. Cover Windows
During the hot weather, you can keep a room cooler by shutting blinds and curtains on windows to help block out the sun.
2. Stay Indoors During Midday
When the weather is hot, the hours before 10am and after 6pm tend to be cooler, so they are usually the best times to be outdoors or run errands.
3. Wear Appropriate Clothes
Dressing for the weather can have a big impact on how seniors stay cool. More natural fabrics such as cotton are often cooler alternatives to synthetic fibers. Also consider lighter colors and more loose-fitting clothes.
If seniors are going to be outside in the warm temperatures, additional precautions should be taken, including wearing a wide-brimmed hat, applying sunscreen and seeking shade.
4. Stay Hydrated
It’s extremely important to stay hydrated during the warm summer months. Drinking just a few cool glasses of water throughout the day can help to bring your body temperature down. If you are outside or sweating more excessively, make sure that you are compensating with extra water intake.
While staying hydrated is important for everyone, it’s especially important for seniors, as they are more susceptible to dehydration. Furthermore, as we age, we can become less aware of our thirst and have a more difficult time adjusting to temperature and weather changes.
In addition to drinking extra water, seniors should avoid drinking caffeine-based beverages like coffee and tea. These caffeinated drinks can irritate the bladder, causing seniors to make more trips to the bathroom and become more dehydrated. Alcoholic beverages can also contribute to dehydration.
5. Eat Smaller Meals
Our bodies use metabolic heat to break down foods, which means our bodies warm up as they process larger meals. Eating smaller meals regularly throughout the day can help to keep our bodies cool.
6. Be Aware of the Heat Index
The heat index includes temperature and humidity to give an approximation of how the weather actually feels. When the humidity is high, there is a lot of moisture in the air and it becomes more difficult for the body to cool itself.
7. Find Air-Conditioned Areas
During periods of extreme heat, seniors who do not have air-conditioned homes should consider spending time in a place with air-conditioning, such as the library or the mall. Your city might also provide “cooling centers” (air-conditioned public spaces) for seniors and other vulnerable citizens.
8. Know the Signs of Distress
Elderly people are at a higher risk for hyperthermia, which is an abnormally high body temperature, during the summer months. At its extreme, hyperthermia can lead to heat stroke and can be life-threatening.
Be aware of the signs of heatstroke and what to if you, a family member, or friend is experiencing it. According to the CDC, the signs of heatstroke include:
- High body temperature (103°F or higher)
- Hot, red, dry, or damp skin
- Fast, strong pulse
- Losing consciousness (passing out/fainting)
Heatstroke is a medical emergency. If you or your loved one experience these symptoms, call 911 and seek professional medical attention immediately.
Additional Resources for Seniors
The US Government provides public services for older adults and their families. You can use eldercare.gov’s Eldercare Locator to find services in your local community, such as programs to help seniors with less financial resources get air conditioners.