After a long, cold and snowy winter, summer is finally here! June kicks off the season for picnics, trips to the beach, the park, Milwaukee’s festival season and a long list of summer-filled activities. And, while everyone enjoys summer, the heat can be a dangerous—especially for seniors.
The older we get, the more vulnerable we are to heat and humidity. According to the American Geriatrics Society’s Foundation for Health in Aging, seniors 50 and over are less sensitive to heat and feeling thirsty, making it potentially dangerous.
During this time, extra precautions should be taken to protect from sunburn, dehydration and heat-related illnesses. Age, weight, and prescription drug use are all factors that can make seniors more or less susceptible to heat hazards.
And certainly, seniors want and need to take advantage of the summer’s many offerings, but care must be taken to avoid some of the negative effects of heat such as:
Sunburn: Water pills, antibiotics, some anti-depressants and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can increase sensitivity to the sun.
According to the Mayo Clinic, signs include a pink or red color, pain or tenderness in a particular area and skin that feels warm or hot to the touch. If you get sunburn, the Mayo clinic suggests taking a cool bath and applying over-the-counter aloe or hydrocortisone cream. If blisters appear, do not break them, but cover them with light, nonstick gauze.
Heat cramps: Muscular pains and spasms sometimes occur in the legs or stomach and can affect anyone who sweats. Those suffering from heat cramps should drink water regularly and apply firm pressure to muscle spasms while taking temporary shelter from direct sunlight. If cramps continue for more than an hour, seek professional medical assistance.
Heat exhaustion: Several days of consistent exposure to high temperatures and humidity can cause dizziness and weakness, accompanied by nausea and headaches. Seniors will more than likely be sweating heavily. To treat heat exhaustion, loosen all clothing, apply cool clothes or towels to all areas of the skin, and drink plenty of water.
Heat stroke: If body’s temperature rises to 105 or more degrees, seniors may experience rapid, shallow breathing, vomiting, seizures, or unconsciousness. After calling 911 for assistance, the person suffering from heat stroke should be moved to a cooler place and fanned to help bring the body temperature down. Do not give this person fluids.
Of course, seniors want to enjoy the summer fun and festivals along with everyone else. Some suggestions for being outdoors when the temperature is higher than 90 degrees are:
• Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing, hats, and sunglasses to keep the sun off your face and head.
• Use at least SPF 30 sunscreen on all parts of the body that are exposed to the sun, including forehead, ears, nose and back of the neck.
• Avoid strenuous activities as much as possible, especially during the hottest times of the day, between noon and 4 p.m.
• Drink plenty of water and sports drinks, and avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages. Doctors recommend seniors drink at least eight glasses of water a day, even if you don’t feel thirsty.
• Snack on healthy foods and snacks. Foods that are high in protein increase metabolic heat. So, if you know you’re going outside, try eating a sandwich, salad, fresh fruit and vegetables rather than a heavier meal.
• Check the warning labels on any prescription medicines on a regular basis. Some may affect how your body manages heat. If you have any questions, be sure to ask your doctor or pharmacist.
If being out in the summer heat is just too dangerous, look for fun and relaxing activities to do in the cool and comfort of your home. For example, during especially hot days:
• Take this time to organize pictures, scrapbooks and share family memories. Plan ahead for the holidays and organize family gifts of photos or a memory book.
• Consider listening to audio books if reading is difficult. Check with your local library about books on tape/talking books programs.
• If you enjoy music, consider putting together a special music collection on an iPod or burning a CD and buying a portable CD player that can be easily within reach (it may be a good time to consider burning those old albums to CDs for better portability/ease).
• Plan outings to local museums and indoor cultural events.
• Take in a movie, especially on a hot afternoon when the prices are lower and the air conditioning feels great!
• Do a little shopping at the mall or spend some time at a local bookstore and get an iced coffee or treat while you linger over a book or magazine.
• Take a course at the local recreation center or senior center. The Clinton & Bernice Rose Community Center offers a number of courses and activities throughout the week. Get involved!
• Consider swimming and water aerobics as an option. Check with the Milwaukee Interfaith Older Adults Program to learn about their various programs and upcoming events.
After a winter of record-breaking snowfalls and cold temperatures, you deserve to enjoy the warmth, sun and fun of summer, but be sure to take the necessary precautions and be safe!