The summer is now here in full force and in most areas of the country there are times that it gets dangerously hot. The fact is, older ones are more susceptible to its ill effects. As you get older, your sweat glands are less active, and make it harder for your body to eliminate heat. Even seniors as young as their 60s still have a higher risk in the heat, especially if they have any chronic health conditions.
There are 4 basic, vital steps that everyone should take to protect themselves. Be sure to talk to your doctor about your concerns as well, and see what advice they have for you.
1. Sun Protection: First and foremost, you need to protect yourself before you even step outside. And that means more than applying sunscreen! You should absolutely wear it, though, any time you go out. Even when in the shade, or when it doesn’t seem too sunny, you should still apply it. You’d be surprised how much exposure you get even at those times!
The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends using “broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher”. This level of SPF filters out about 97 perfect on the sun’s UV radiation. Broad-spectrum ensures that you’re protected from both UVA and UVB rays.
But it doesn’t stop there. Sunscreen can only do so much. You need to protect yourself additionally by wearing broad-rimmed hats and sunglasses. Choose loose-fitting clothing made from a breathable fabric such as cotton, and choose lighter colors. Avoid prolonged exposure from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the hottest part of the day.
2. Keep Hydrated: Most adults need about two quarts (64 ounces) of fluids every day, but that amount increases with heat and humidity and can change based on various medications. Drink plenty of cool water throughout the day, and avoid alcohol and caffeine, which will actually dehydrate you.
If you struggle to drink enough water, remember that you can get extra hydration by eating water-rich foods such as cucumbers and watermelon. You can also purchase flavored waters, drink a half-and-half mixture of fruit juice and water, and include plenty of ice in your usual favorite beverage. But in the end, these need to be an accompaniment to a consistent intake of water throughout your day.
3. Cool Down: What steps can you take to stay cool throughout the day? If you feel very hot and uncomfortable, try a cool shower, or sit with your feet in a basin of cold water. Keep your AC at a reasonable temperature. If you’re out and about, be sure to have air-conditioned places around you – this includes coffee shops, libraries, stores, and the like. This is a great way to get mild exercise, too. Some seniors enjoy walking around malls in the early morning, especially if they have a friend to join them.
4. Watch for Signs of Heat Stroke: Even if you follow all of these steps, as a senior you’re more prone to experience heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Part of the reason for this is that older ones have a harder time, on average, monitoring and adjusting to big changes in temperature. As the CDC points out, “People aged 65 years or older are less likely to sense and respond to changes in temperature.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, heat stroke symptoms include:
- High body temperature. A body temperature of 104 F (40 C) or higher is the main sign of heatstroke.
- Altered mental state or behavior. Confusion, agitation, slurred speech, irritability, delirium, seizures and coma can all result from heatstroke.
- Alteration in sweating. In heatstroke brought on by hot weather, your skin will feel hot and dry to the touch. However, in heatstroke brought on by strenuous exercise, your skin may feel moist.
- Nausea and vomiting. You may feel sick to your stomach or vomit.
- Flushed skin. Your skin may turn red as your body temperature increases.
- Rapid breathing. Your breathing may become rapid and shallow.
- Racing heart rate. Your pulse may significantly increase because heat stress places a tremendous burden on your heart to help cool your body.
- Headache. Your head may throb.
If you experience any of these symptoms, seek immediate help. Call 911 and if you have any family or friends nearby, alert them to your situation, so they can stay with you until professional help arrives. In the meantime, some quick steps you can take include getting indoors or into the shade, removing excess or heavy clothing, and using a hand-held fan with a water mister.
By following these guidelines, you can be sure to have a healthy, enjoyable summer!