By: David Lo, Internal Medicine, Western Connecticut Medical Group Ridgefield Primary Care
- The summer heat can take a toll on seniors. In particular, seniors should take special care during the summer months to stay hydrated and avoid heat-related illnesses like heat stroke.
- Even when it’s hot outside, seniors still need to exercise. They should consider changing their exercise routine to avoid the heat and stay active.
- Summer health considerations for seniors include managing medications that can cause dehydration, and getting outside for at least 30 minutes per day to get enough Vitamin D.
- Older skin can be thinner and burn more easily. Always wear sunscreen and protective clothing.
Summer is a great time to get active, spend time with friends and family, and enjoy the outdoors. For adults age 65 or older, summertime weather can also pose health challenges. As the days get hotter, seniors may become frequently dehydrated, have trouble getting their daily exercise, or feel stuck indoors to avoid the heat.
Here are the top four things senior citizens need to know to have a safe and healthy summer.
1: Get Exercise
Exercise is important all year round and for people of all ages. Thirty minutes of regular exercise each day can help seniors strengthen their core and reduce the risk of falls or injury. Exercise is also good for their heart.
Summer is a great time to explore new types of exercise. For example, aqua aerobics (aerobic exercise in a shallow swimming pool) is a fantastic summertime activity. The resistance from the water strengthens muscles. Since it’s low impact and the water helps to stabilize the body, it’s a safe and effective exercise, especially for people with osteoporosis who are at greater risk of fractured bones as a result of a fall. Aqua aerobics is also a fun social activity where seniors can meet with peers and make friends.
Sometimes it might be too hot to safely walk outside. To maintain a daily walking routine, find an indoor, air-conditioned (AC) location, like an indoor track, a senior center, or a mall.
2: Stay Cool, Stay Hydrated
Summer heat can be dangerous for everyone, but seniors are particularly vulnerable to dehydration which can lead to heat stroke. Dehydration and heat stroke can be life-threatening if left untreated.
Older adults may have more difficulty regulating their internal temperature or producing the sweat they need to cool down. As people age, it’s common for the senses to be dulled, so they may not feel thirsty. Seniors may also be more prone to dehydration because they may not have easy access to fluids. Further, seniors may already be slightly dehydrated from medications they take for common health conditions like high blood pressure.
The increased risk of dehydration means it’s very important for seniors to stay cool and hydrated. They should speak with their healthcare provider about the ideal amount of water they should drink each day. They should also ask their healthcare provider if they need to make any changes to their medications to help keep them hydrated. Finally, they should have a reliable AC system, either at home or somewhere where they can easily go, like a senior center.
Seniors should be especially wary if they experience blurry vision, dizziness, or are being told by friends or family that they don’t look well. They may be experiencing the early stages of heat stroke. If these symptoms occur, seniors should go to a cool place with AC, drink plenty of cool (but not ice cold) water or a sports drink (to boost electrolyte levels), and seek emergency medical attention.
3: Manage Medications
Managing medications can be tricky at the best of times, but summer weather can make it even harder.
The heat can damage medications and make them less effective or harmful to take. For example, pills left in hot and humid places can congeal together, become misshapen, or have a different smell or feel to them. If seniors notice any of these changes to their pills, they should ask their pharmacist or healthcare provider if the medication is still okay to take.
To avoid heat damage to medications, keep them in dry, room-temperature conditions that are no hotter than 60 to 70 degrees. A great place for medications is inside a bedroom nightstand.
4: Enjoy Being Outside
Spending 30 minutes a day outside isn’t just relaxing, it’s also healthy. The summer sun is great for getting Vitamin D, which is critical for keeping bones strong. Find excuses to spend time outside this summer — walk the dog, go on a picnic, tour the neighborhood with grandchildren or friends — but do it safely.
Even though the sun provides Vitamin D, it can cause harmful effects such as sunburn or eye damage.
Seniors may be especially vulnerable to the sun’s rays because of thinner skin. Seniors can protect their skin by applying sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 about 30 minutes before exposure to the sun, and then reapplying it according to the instructions.
Seniors should wear protective clothing like hats and lightweight cotton shirts and pants to protect their skin from the sun. They should also wear sunglasses with UV400 protection lenses, especially if they have eye conditions like cataracts or macular degeneration.
Other warm weather hazards include outdoor construction and cracks in the concrete from winter weather. These may be tripping hazards. Wear stabilizing shoes like sneakers and avoid sandals. Also be careful of insect bites — especially tick bites. Older adults are not immune to contracting tick-borne illnesses such as Lyme disease, so check for ticks every night.
Have a safe, healthy, and fun summer!
The post was brought to you by the Western CT Health Network.