While summer days can mean pleasant weather and outdoor fun, rising temperatures can be dangerous for seniors. For the elderly, heat intolerance is a real concern. In fact, heat-related deaths climb significantly after age 65 and even more steeply after age 75, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Here are some hot-weather precautions for the elderly that can help keep you or your senior loved one safe in the summer.
Heat Intolerance in the ElderlyAs we age, physical changes can mean we sense heat differently. Brain signaling slows down, so while body temperature may be higher than 98 degrees, we don’t necessarily feel hot. Our skin thins and that means there are fewer pores available to produce sweat and the cooling response of evaporation. In addition, seniors who are thin lack the naturally insulating properties of fat and muscle that helps keep body temperatures normal. But while we won’t necessarily feel more uncomfortable in higher temperatures, our risk for experiencing heat-related conditions like heat stroke and heat exhaustion increases. That’s why it’s important to take hot-weather precautions for the elderly.
Why Hot Weather is Dangerous for SeniorsAging has its effects on the body, and that includes making summer heat a potential danger for those aged 65 and older. For some elderly, heat intolerance is a risk because reduced mobility or memory disorders can make it difficult to take precautions in hot weather. Medications for chronic conditions can affect how the body regulates temperature or can increase dehydration, making overheating a risk. In addition, increased heat also increases the death risk for senior adults who have chronic conditions like lung disease, diabetes or heart diseases.
What Temperature are Dangerous for ElderlyThe thermometer outside may read 85 degrees, but the combination of heat and humidity (the heat index) makes it feel much hotter. That’s why seniors need to be aware of the heat index. Experts recommend that when the heat index reaches 91 degrees, seniors should take extra precautions to stay cool. That means 85 degrees at 65 percent humidity rates a heat index of 91 degrees. So does 90 degrees at 35 percent humidity. Don’t guess – check the heat index on hot days.
Signs and Treatment of Heat Exhaustion in the ElderlyAnother risk of summer heat and the elderly is heat exhaustion, which is caused by exposure to high temperatures. If your elderly loved one experiences hot and dry skin, dizziness, headache and cramps, nausea or vomiting, these are all symptoms of heat exhaustion and an indicator to seek help right away. Immediately take measures to help them get cooler until help arrives, such as placing a cool washcloth on their pulse points and fanning them and moving them to an air-conditioned room. If untreated, heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke, a life-threatening condition.
Summer Safety Tips For SeniorsInterested in learning more about the elderly and heat intolerance? Here are some effective hot-weather precautions for the elderly to help keep you or your loved one healthy when temperatures rise:
Maintain a Cool EnvironmentIf you don’t have central air, even having a window air conditioning unit in one room of your house can help. When that isn’t possible, placing fans in and around windows can keep air circulating. Be sure cords are safely taped down to the floor or tucked away to avoid a fall.
Know Where You Can Go to Rest and Relax Away From the HeatDon’t suffer in the heat at home. Instead, visit a local senior center, the movie theater or the mall. Many communities also establish cooling centers during the hottest days of the summer. Check with your local Agency on Aging office to find the one closest to you.
Increase Your HydrationUnless your doctor has restricted your fluid intake for health reasons, increase your hydration during the summer months. Your daily diet should include eight glasses of water and foods that have high water content, like cucumber, melons, berries and leafy green vegetables.
Avoid the Hottest Parts of the DayAvoiding the outdoors between noon and 4:00 p.m. is also a great way to beat the heat. These are typically the hottest hours of the day. If you’re planning on working in the yard or taking a walk, consider doing so later in the day or evening to avoid the sun.
Decrease Direct Skin Contact With the SunWearing long-sleeved, loose-fitting clothes and a hat with a brim that provides shade for the face will help make you feel cooler.. Also, consider using sunglasses to protect your eyes from UV rays and reduce your risk of vision loss.
Keep Your Shades ShutKeep the curtains and shades shut, especially on the east and west sides of the house, to cool down your house. Experts say that 40 percent of heat comes through your windows. Home improvement stores also carry a heat-control window film you can apply yourself to help reflect the sun’s rays.
Cool Off With a Cold Shower
Take a cool shower. While many of us are conditioned to take hot showers, turning down the water temperature and not drying off completely when finished helps cool the body down.
Finally, know the warning signs of heat-related illnesses. Early intervention and outdoor safety for seniors is key to preventing heat stroke.
Sunscreen Tips for SeniorsSunscreen is an important step in staying safe in the sun and another hot-weather precaution for the elderly. Fragile senior skin needs protection from sunburn and skin cancer. Because sun damage can happen fast, make it a habit to use sunscreen whenever you are outside. Here are some answers to common questions people have about sun protection and the elderly:
Does Skin Get More Sensitive to Sun With Age?As we age, our skin becomes drier and more fragile. This change can be caused by a variety of factors including loss of collagen and side effects of medication. Drier and more fragile skin is more sensitive to the sun.
What Is The Best Type of Sunscreen for Older Skin?No one type of sunscreen can be considered better than another. When thinking about the best sunscreen for seniors, consider what area of the body you are trying to protect and which type of sunscreen is easiest to apply there. You might find a stick is the best choice to use on your ears and the back of your knees and a spray or cream is best for larger areas of the body. Just remember to check the SPF on each product to make certain you are getting equal protection.
What is SPF?Sun protection factor, known as SPF,is a rating system used to evaluate how effective the product is at preventing sunburn. So, if your senior loved one can typically be in the sun for about 5 minutes before they begin to experience sunburn, an SPF of 15 will allow them to be outdoors 15 times longer or 1 hour and 15 minutes (75 minutes).
What is the Recommended SPF for the Elderly?The expert-recommended SPF for sunscreen for everyone is 30. Choose a water-resistant sunscreen that offers broad-spectrum coverage and reapply every two hours while you are outside – more often if you are swimming or sweating. The AARP reported on the Consumer Reports ratings of the most popular sunscreens on the market.
What Type of Sunscreen is Better: A Stick, Spray or Cream?Consumer Reports asked that very question in research they did. They found that no one type of sunscreen could be considered better than another. So, think about what area of the body you are trying to protect and which type of sunscreen is easiest to apply there. You might find a stick is the best choice to use on your ears and the back of your knees and a spray or cream is best for larger areas of the body. Just remember to check the SPF on each product to make certain you are getting equal protection.
How Much Sunscreen Should I Apply and How Often?A: This is an area that people don’t often get right. The general rule is one ounce of sunscreen every two hours that you are outdoors. If you are running or swimming or otherwise working up a sweat, you will need to re-apply it even more frequently. That likely means you will use an entire bottle of sunscreen for each full day you spend outside.
What Is the Difference Between UVA and UVB Rays?Both types of the sun’s rays can cause damage to your skin, but UVB rays are considered to be the most harmful. UVB rays are the ones that cause your skin to burn. UVA rays are the most common and penetrate the skin more deeply. Both UVA and UVB rays are usually strongest between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. The Skin Cancer Foundation’s Prevention Center has more resources and information on how to protect yourself from the sun’s damaging rays. Visit them to learn more.
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