After a dreary winter and a chilly spring, everyone looks forward to the warmth and sunshine that comes with summer.
However, that heat can also pose a threat, especially to older adults. Because of physical changes caused by aging and other health conditions, they can be at high risk of developing heat-related illnesses. This summer, help your loved ones stay cool and healthy with these essential safety tips.
Limit outdoor exposure
Prolonged exposure to excessive heat and humidity can be dangerous for older adults. Their bodies have a more challenging time regulating their temperature, which can make them extra susceptible to summer’s high temperatures and harder for them to cool down their body. To help avoid issues, older adults should stay indoors between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the temperatures are at their peak. During these hours, encourage them to get out of the sun by visiting the library, walking around an indoor mall, going to the movie theater with a friend, or spending time at their local senior center. These activities will help them keep cool and hydrated while also providing them with opportunities to socialize and stay active.
Keep them hydrated
Dehydration is a common problem in older adults, as they tend not to feel thirsty. Therefore, it’s important to remind them to stay hydrated by drinking enough water, which is the best choice for replenishing lost fluids. They can also drink juice and sports drinks, and consume fruits and vegetables that have a high water content, such as watermelon, cucumbers, and celery. In addition, advise them to avoid alcoholic and caffeinated beverages, which can dehydrate the body. If they’re experiencing symptoms of dehydration, including weakness, dizziness, and confusion, or have a headache or severe muscle cramps, have them seek immediate medical attention.
Monitor signs of heat illness
Sweat is the body’s way of cooling down. Unfortunately, seniors typically have more difficulty producing it, which can ultimately lead to several heat-related issues.
Heat exhaustion can be the precursor to heat stroke, so taking the necessary steps to cool them down as soon as possible is essential. Move them to a shady location, give them fluids, and apply cool compresses to their wrists, ankles, armpits, and neck. Being exposed to too much heat or not hydrated enough can cause heat exhaustion, a sign that the body can no longer keep itself cool. Because this condition is common in older adults, it’s essential to recognize if your loved one is demonstrating any symptoms, including sweating heavily or not at all, having a headache, feeling weak, tired, or dizzy, appearing pale, having cold or clammy skin, and experiencing nausea or vomiting.
More severe than heat exhaustion, heat stroke is a life-threatening rise in body temperature caused by prolonged exposure to high temperatures. However, it is preventable by paying attention to warning signs, such as a body temperature of 104°F or higher, red, hot, dry skin, a fast pulse, headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, confusion, listlessness, and passing out. If your loved one is experiencing any of these symptoms, get them to a cool area and call 911 immediately.
Encourage lightweight clothing
When it comes to hot weather, not all clothing is alike. When dressing for hot weather, choose loose-fitting and lightweight clothes made from natural, breathable fabrics such as cotton and linen to help your loved one keep you cool and comfortable by allowing their skin to breathe; avoid synthetic materials, like polyester and nylon, as these fabrics will only make them feel hotter. Light colors will also help them stay cool by reflecting the sun’s rays, while darker colors will absorb the sun and make you feel hotter. To help your loved one dress appropriately, inspect their summer wardrobe or take them shopping for clothes more fitting for summer temperatures.
Check the inside temperature
One of the most important things you can do for your elderly loved one is to ensure their home remains cool as summer heats up. If they have central air, verify that the system works at capacity. If they don’t, make sure they have window AC units and high-powered fans to keep the inside temperature safe. Consider having them stay with you (if local) or possibly ask a friend or other family member, especially during a heat wave. Another option is to use the Elder Care Network locator in their area to help them find local centers and assistance during extended periods of extreme heat.
Other factors to consider
As your loved one ages, they may take multiple medications or have diminished mental abilities. Therefore, it’s vital to consider these additional factors when assessing their risk of suffering from a heat-related illness.
Approximately one in four people with dementia live alone and may not always be aware of their surroundings. If you have an elderly loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or other related dementias, it’s especially important to keep a close eye on them in the heat of the summer.
Medication side effects
Be aware of the medications your loved one is taking and their possible symptoms since some can cause a person’s body temperature to rise or fall or even become dehydrated. If you’re concerned about their medications, talk to their doctor to know the signs of heat-related side effects.
Create a care plan
To ensure your loved one with dementia stays safe during extreme heat, complete a care plan together tailored to meet both of your needs. This plan should include ways to keep cool, a list of medications they take, steps of what to do if they start to show signs of a heat-related illness as well as a list of emergency numbers. The more prepared you are, the better it will be for you and your loved one for a safe and comfortable summer.