By Christopher Dietz, DO, Area Medical Director, MedExpress Urgent Care
There’s nothing quite like the feeling of stepping outside into the sun on a warm, bright summer day to soak up some much-needed Vitamin D. For seniors, though, it’s important to take extra care and precaution during the summer months to avoid hidden health hazards that come with the heat of season. Why? Certain medications, underlying health conditions and other concerns that come with age, like poor circulation, can all play a role in how seniors respond to high temperatures. Stay safe in the summer sun with these 5 safety tips for seniors.
1. Wear protective gear
From sunscreen to sunhats, make sure you’re equipped with the right gear before you venture out into the heat and sunshine this summer, especially if you’re taking certain medications. Often, medications for diabetes, depression and pain can cause photosensitivity, or sensitivity to ultraviolet rays from sunlight. People with photosensitivity may experience rashes, fever and severe sunburn when they’re outside even for short periods of time.
Wear lightweight, breathable, light-colored clothing that comfortably covers as much of the skin as possible. On some days, it may be unbearable to wear long sleeves or long pants, but on days where there is a nice breeze, clothes that provide more coverage from the sun are always a good option.
It’s best to use a sunscreen of SPF 30 or more on any exposed parts of your body. Most adults will only need about 1 ounce of sunscreen – the size of a shot glass – to cover the whole body. Don’t forget to reapply every two hours and more often if sweating or spending time in a pool, lake or ocean. In addition to sunscreen, seniors can protect the face and eyes from sun damage by wearing a breathable, loosely woven broad-brim hat.
2. Play it cool
Plan your outdoor activities so they take place during the cooler parts of the day. Before 11 am and after 5 pm are the best times to spend an hour or two outdoors taking a walk, gardening, or riding your bike. Try to stay inside or in the shade during the late morning and afternoon, as this is when temperatures typically peak. Older adults have more trouble adjusting to sudden changes in temperature often due to poor circulation and the inability to sweat sufficiently – so going too quickly from an air-conditioned area to the mid-day heat wave can cause distress.
When coming inside from the heat, splash your face with cool water or place a cool washcloth on the back of your neck to help your body temperature return to normal. Taking a cool bath or shower can also be helpful when returning from the heat.
3. Phone a friend
For seniors living alone, it’s important to have someone – a neighbor, family member, or friend – check on you once or twice a day, especially during the summer months. Also, over communicate. If you plan to spend a lot of time outside one day, let your neighbors know and ask them if they can stop by for a visit (and a refreshing beverage!) every few hours.
4. Hydration and medication
Many medications, including blood pressure medication and antidepressants, may cause the body to dehydrate more quickly than normal. Plus, kidneys may not function as effectively in older adults, making it more difficult to conserve necessary liquid. That means that seniors who spend a lot of time in the heat and sun need to take extra precaution when it comes to keeping the body hydrated. Don’t wait until you feel thirsty – drink plenty of fluids before, during and after your outdoor excursions, even if you’re only headed to the back yard. Carry a water bottle with you at all times, and replace lost electrolytes when returning indoors after a long day in the heat by sipping on a sports drink. If you’re looking for an alternative to water, bite into a juicy watermelon, peach, strawberry, or pineapple. These fruits are high in water content and can help you stay hydrated.
5. Give it a break
It’s important to stay in tune with your body and always head indoors if you start experiencing signs of dehydration, sunburn, or heat-related illness. If you notice symptoms like dizziness, headache, nausea, muscle cramps or confusion, take a break in the shade, or better yet, an air-conditioned space.