Summer and Older Adults: Tips for a Safe, Healthy Season
At the Witherell, summer is one of our favorite seasons. It’s a time when we can fully enjoy our gorgeous gardens for entertainment, family visits, or even just a stroll to savor the bright blooms in the Rose Garden or the gurgling fountain in the Friendship Garden.
Though summer brings many joys, for older adults it also necessitates a bit of caution. Extreme heat, high humidity, sun exposure, and pests like ticks or mosquitos can be especially problematic. It’s important for caregivers to recognize how summer weather may impact their loved ones and take appropriate precautions. Here, our senior care experts at the Witherell share their tips on how to enjoy the blessings of the summer season, safely.
“Extreme summer heat can be dangerous for anyone, but for older adults, it’s especially challenging,” says John Mastronardi, executive director at The Nathaniel Witherell. “So, it’s especially important to be on the lookout for common heat-related illnesses.”
As we age, our internal systems to regulate body temperature decline. Add to that health conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease, or COPD, and side effects caused by medications, and older adults can become even more easily overwhelmed by summer heat.
“The sensations of being thirsty or overheated might not be recognized as readily by older adults, especially among those who suffer from cognitive decline,” notes Mastronardi. “So, it’s important for caregivers to take steps to avoid those life-threatening heat-related issues before they occur.”
- Dehydration. Aging can cause a decline in the sense of thirst, so it’s important to monitor fluids in older adults, especially in summer.
- Heat Exhaustion. Heat exhaustion happens when the body is exposed to high temperatures and salt and body fluids become depleted. Warning signs are nausea, headache, muscle cramps, fatigue, weakness, blurred vision, vomiting, rapid weak heartbeat, excessive sweating and dizziness.
- Heat Stroke. Heat stroke is a life-threatening condition where the body can’t cool itself down properly and requires immediate medical treatment. Symptoms include headache, dizziness, disorientation, agitation and confusion, body temperature over 104 degrees, staggering, flushed or hot, dry skin, rapid heartbeat, and loss of consciousness.
Summer Safety Tips
- Plan appropriately: If the forecast calls for high temps, limit outdoor activity and include indoor AC breaks. Make sure air conditioning units in your loved one’s home are cleaned and working, and that they know how to operate them.
- Dress right: Light colors and breathable fabrics help everyone handle the heat better. It’s also a good idea for older adults to wear a wide brimmed hat and solar shield sunglasses for protection against the sun’s rays.
- Promote hydration: Make sure hydration is monitored and that older adults have access to plenty of water and juices. Avoid caffeinated drinks as they can actually promote dehydration.
- Beat the bugs: Use insect repellent to avoid itchy mosquito bites that can irritate fragile or thin skin in older adults. Help your loved ones check for ticks after being out, especially in grassy areas during summer.
- Enjoy off hours: The sun is at its peak in noon, but the hottest part of the day is usually around 3pm. Encourage older adults to enjoy the outdoors in early morning or late afternoon to beat the heat.