Extreme temperatures are among the worst silent killers, as we often underestimate how dangerous they are. Even in areas that are notorious for extreme temperatures, people will still be unaware of the warning signs from their health that life-threatening damage is being done from the extreme heat or cold. Furthermore, many seniors are unaware of the specific safety precautions they especially need to take when in extremely high or low temperatures. We’ll discuss some pointers to keep in mind when preparing for drastic weather changes.
The heat causes fatal health problems for nearly 200 people in the United States every summer. Most of those 200 people are over the age of 50, as the aging body is not able to handle extreme heat as well as younger bodies. Here are some ways to stay safe when the summer is just too hot.
- Air Conditioning– When a heat wave hits, you’ll want to stay inside with air conditioning on. Staying indoors will keep your body from overheating and suffering health ailments like heat stroke and dehydration. If you don’t have air conditioning at your home, then try going to the movies, the mall, or the community center.
- Avoid the Sun– Direct sunlight during extreme heat, only compounds the harmful effects. The sun can wear out the body much faster, to a point of losing orientation and fainting. If you must be outside, try to stay in the shade, or do your activity in the evening or early morning, when the sun is not as draining.
- Hydration– Your body needs plenty of water to properly function. Once the body is dehydrated for an extended period of time, then organ failure becomes imminent. It is very important to drink fluids so as not to fall victim to the sun. Do not drink caffeine or alcohol, as they will dry you out faster.
- Wear Breathable Clothing– Your clothing can have a huge effect on your internal temperature. Wear clothing that will allow sweat to evaporate, which allows your body to keep cool. Loose, light colored clothing will go a long way in helping your body to withstand the effects. Wear a hat and sunglasses as well, to avoid sunburn and to protect your eyes.
- Sunburn– As mentioned above, it can be very easy to get sunburn during extreme heat waves. Sunburn can exasperate skin cancer in the long term, and be very uncomfortable in the short term. Always wear a hat, preferably a wide brimmed hat, when outside. Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes. Always put on sunscreen of at least SPF 30, preferably 50 for good protection against the sun. It is advisable to reapply the sunscreen every two hours that you are outside.
- How to Cool Down– Take showers or baths that are cold or tepid, as the water will cool down the blood in your veins, which will in turn cool your entire body. Hand towels that are soaked in cold water or wrapped around ice packs and placed on areas where there is a lot of blood flow will also cool you down rapidly. Areas like the neck, wrists, and armpits are ideal.
The cold is just as taxing on the body as the extreme heat is. Seniors are much more susceptible to losing body heat in the cold compared to those who are younger. The aged body is also less aware of when it is getting too cold, meaning an older person may stay out in the cold longer than they’re actually safely able to do. Seniors can begin to suffer from hypothermia much sooner than younger people. Here are a few ways for seniors to stay safe in the extreme cold.
- 68°F Minimum on Heater– Sometimes it’s tempting to turn the heater down to 60-65°F to save on utility costs, but this can be life threatening during extremely cold days. A heater lower than 68° will not properly heat the house, and as mentioned earlier, an older body does not signal the brain when it is too cold. A senior living alone could fall into fatal hypothermia, as they are not keeping their body warm enough to function properly.
- Dress Warmly– Again, an older body will not warn you when it is too cold. If you don’t feel cold, you’ll still want to wear a sweater, long pants, and socks to keep warm. Keeping your body warm is of utmost importance to avoid hypothermia. Even when going to bed, be sure to be fully bundled.
- Insulate the House– Make sure your windows are not drafty, and that they are shut tight and locked, curtains drawn. Install weather stripping if possible. A drafty house will sap out any heat from the heaters, raising utility bills and making it unsafe for you.
- Stay Dry– If you go outside and get snow on you, be sure to change clothing as soon as possible as wet clothing saps you of your body heat.
Be Prepared for Temperature Changes
Aging makes regulating body temperature more challenging during hot and cold spells. Seasonal temperature changes and activities once taken for granted pose potential problems with declining reserves, chronic conditions, and medications. But with careful forethought, you can remain safe and healthy no matter the weather!