I’ll bet you are a lot like me when it comes to summer. I’m thrilled when it finally arrives and lavishes us with sun and blue skies. But I am also aware that the heat in July and August, when temperatures spike into the 80s and 90s, can cause problems for our favorite seniors.
I’d like to suggest that with a little forward thinking caregivers can tone down outdoor activity, avoid heat-related problems as well as look for ways to keep our elderly loved ones as “cool as a cucumber. ”
It’s important to remember that too much activity in the heat as well as too much time in the direct sun can cause dehydration. Even worse, these same factors can cause our more susceptible seniors to suffer all sorts of heat stroke-type symptoms ranging from nausea and cramps to headaches and exhaustion.
The Mayo Clinic defines heatstroke as caused by prolonged exposure to high temperatures or by doing physical activity in hot weather. You are considered to have heatstroke when your body temperature reaches 104 F (40 C) or higher. High humidity, certain health problems and some medications increase your risk of heatstroke. So does being a young child or older adult.
To avoid this avoidable problem, we need to use a little common sense.
For starters, when summer heats up, consider making appointments and outings in the cool of the early morning. Alternatively, early evening is a great cooling off time of the day to get out of the house.
What could be more fun and refreshing than to take an evening drive to a waterfront park such as Golden Gardens in Seattle? Once there, pick up a swirly ice cream cone at the drive-in, sit on a bench overlooking the Sound and savor the flavor while watching the sunset and sailboats tacking in the breeze!
Try these summer health tips for seniors to keep cool and safe:
- Reduce strenuous activities.
- Hydrate. Forego alcohol and caffeinated drinks. Instead, drink lots of water and eat fresh fruits and veggies.
- Avoid too much of sun. Generally, this is between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. — regardless of season. These are prime hours for exposure to skin-damaging ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun, even on overcast days.
- Use sunscreen with at least SPF 15 or higher when going outdoors even for cloudy or hazy days. Apply sunscreen generously and reapply regularly.
- Wear protective clothing. This includes pants, shirts with long sleeves and sunglasses. Top it off with a wide-brimmed hat. Also, consider investing in sun-protective clothing or using an umbrella for shade.
- Wear light, loose clothes. Lose the tighter-fitting outfits. Instead, wear cotton and light polyester clothes that “breathe” and “wick.”
- Picnic and play in cool, shady places. When you head outdoors, set up your folding chair or “people” watching spot in the shade. Look for a breeze, too.
- Turn on the air con. Stay cool by lowering the shades, turn on the air conditioning (if you’ve got it), turn on fans and relax.
- Cool off with cool treats such as ice creams, popsicles, frozen treats, fruits and veggies such as watermelon and berries.
- Watch out for dehydration. People taking medications that have the side effects of fluid and electrolyte loss need to be extra careful. Talk to your pharmacist about your meds.
- Heat stroke symptoms: Look for weakness, nausea, no or heavy sweating, rapid pulse, and/or fainting. More heat exhaustion tips.
- Have the person lie down in a cool place. Raise the person’s feet about 12 inches.
- Apply cool, wet cloths (or cool water directly) to the person’s skin and use a fan to lower body temperature. Place cold compresses on the person’s neck, groin, and armpits.
- If alert, give the person beverages to sip (such as Gatorade), or make a salted drink by adding a teaspoon of salt per quart of water. Give a half cup every 15 minutes. Cool water will do if salt beverages are not available.
- For muscle cramps, give beverages as above and massage affected muscles gently, but firmly, until they relax.
- If the person shows signs of shock (bluish lips and fingernails and decreased alertness), starts havingseizures, or loses consciousness, call 911 and give first aid as needed.
Now that we’ve got all the warnings out of the way, let’s focus on the fun stuff we can do during the summer (or any other time) with our elderly loved ones! These indoor activities and summertime fun ideas will keep our elderly loved ones engaged, moving and cool:
Indoor Summertime Activities for Seniors
- Take this time to organize pictures, scrapbooks and share family memories.
- Consider audio books if reading is difficult. Check with your local library about Books on Tape/Talking Books programs.
- Plan outings to local museums and indoor cultural events.
- Take in a movie, especially on a hot afternoon when the prices are lower and the air conditioning feels great!
- Do a little shopping at the mall or spend some time at a local bookstore and get an iced coffee or treat while you linger over a book or magazine.
- It is a good time to get organized! Slowly go through closets or files, work together on shredding items and cleaning out/organizing.
- Set a goal to learn something new together…it is great for the brain! Play checkers, cards, a new board game.
- Take a course at the local recreation center or senior center.
- Check with local recreation centers and senior centers about other activities such as dances and clubs. If you are a caregiver, go to the local centers and do some research for your loved one to explore what might be interesting.
- Ask your elderly loved one to share a skill/teach you. Perhaps he/she can give you pointers on a craft, show you how to make old family recipes, or tell you about the history of your hometown.
- Connect with technology! Introduce some basic computer skills. Consider no-cook meals or making items that just require a quick simmer.
- Consider swimming and water aerobics as an option. Check with your local recreation center about classes and options.
- Join a gym or walk on a treadmill if you usually do outdoor activities. Go mall walking.
How do you beat the heat in summer? Please let us know and we will share your ideas with our readers!