Karen McPhail, RN, MSN
Summer Safety for Older Adults!
Summer is quickly approaching and before we know it the summer heat and humidity will be setting in! The summer is of course a time of fun in the outdoors, often filled with barbecues, swimming, vacations and more! However, the summer can be an extremely dangerous time for older adults.
Get out there and enjoy the fun, but in a safe way by following the steps below:
1. Dress Properly! Always check and dress for the weather! Choose light weight, loose fitting, soft fabrics that wick away moisture when possible in warmer weather. If planning to be in the sun, bring a large brimmed hat or sun umbrella to shield yourself from excess rays. Often times as we grow older we lose the ability to notice subtle changes in our body temperatures. We may think that we feel fine, but in fact we are becoming quickly overheated and on our way to dehydration.
2. That brings me to my next point...hydration! Drink! Always have fluids on hand. Often times people view only water as hydration, this is not correct. If you are already dehydrated and add only water to your body you will become more dehydrated. Hydration is a combination of fluids and electrolytes. A low calorie sports drink with electrolytes should be kept on hand along with water. A person needs a balance of calcium, sodium, potassium, magnesium, and phosphorus to stay hydrated and well. Generally people get these items from eating a normal diet and by drinking a normal amount of fluids each day. As we get older we sometimes have effected electrolytes or nutrition due to medications and other health related issues. So, we can be more prone to dehydration when in prolonged heat. On warmer days or while in prolonged heat, levels of electrolytes in your body can become too low or too high. It is therefore important to drink a combination of water and electrolyte based fluids while out and about! Also remember to eat throughout the day! Keep a straw cup out during the day as a reminder to drink! Filling a pitcher and keeping it out on the counter can also be helpful a cue and reminder! Seeing hoe much has been consumed will keep you on track also! For those with visual impairments or dementia ensure that they can see the water by choosing a colored form of hydration or a very small drop of tasteless organic food coloring mixed in.
3. Pollen levels can be a huge danger for older adults and individuals in general. High pollen levels can negatively effect the respiratory system and cause immediate health problems for seniors. Check the national weather center and pollen count during key months such as the spring. Often times we may want to be outside, but honestly need to stay indoors or change our plans to accommodate our health needs!
4. Extreme heat should be avoided whenever possible! Do not plan outings to begin at noon or that are during peak afternoon hours. Take a walk in the morning or plan a late afternoon outing with family. Stay in the shade rather than in the direct sun when possible. Again, we may want to be outside, but need to stay indoors to protect ourselves from health risks. The temperature will eventually change and outings under safe conditions can be made! Show good judgement and be safe rather than sorry!
5. Pace yourself! Avoid over exertion or strenuous exercise in the hotter weather! Again use good judgement; do not over do it!
6. Monitor the weather! Watch for high humidity and temperatures. often times people forget about the impact that humidity has upon our bodies! We have a decreased abilityto cool ourselves down by sweating when we have high humidity or high levels of moisture in the air. This is even more of a concern as we grow older. Watch the heat index through the national weather service or other weather reporting service as it provides you with a clear picture of the weather based on the combination of humidity and heat.
7. Change your routine! Seek out activities for warmer days. Stay in doors and do a movie night, read, seek out crafts, etc. If you get cabin fever try to go out in the am or early evening. If you do not have air condition, seek out places that do! At the end of the day take a cool shower or bath to bring your body temperature down before bedtime. During the day, dine out in air conditioned areas not on outdoor patios, etc. Eat cooler, lighter foods and meals such as fruit, ice cream, salads, yogurt, etc. based on your dietary needs and recommendations. Go to an air conditioned theater to see a movie, go shopping or take your usual walk in an air conditioned shopping mall, go to an indoor pool for a cool swim, museum tour, sit in a coffee shop and read, etc. When having to be outside for short periods of time, take a small motorized fan or sit in the shade, under an outdoor ceiling fan. Go into air conditioned areas when possible. Of course provide sunscreen prior to going out in the sun and reapply every two hours and as needed.
8. Know your limits!!! If you do not feel well, trust your gut instincts and get out of the heat. If you experience any sings of heat exhaustion or potentially heat related issues seek immediate attention through an urgent care, primary physician or even 911. It is never silly to ask for help or to be assessed. Do not hesitate, as it could safe your life. The worst thing that can happen is that they say you are fine and you get to go home with peace of mind! Seek immediate attention if you have the following symptoms:
Sudden sharp headache, shortness of breath, wheezing, dizziness, vomiting, nausea, heart palpitations, rapid, or irregular heartbeat, chest tightness, pressure or pain, radiating pain from jaw or down arm, generalize sudden weakness, fainting and breathing problems.
9. At any age precautions should be taken during the summer months and extreme heat!
Stay cool and play it safe!