Summer is a great time for picnics, walks in the park, and maybe even vacations on the beach. But when temperatures climb into the 90s or higher, summer also can bring a few dangers, such as dehydration, heat exhaustion, sunburn, and eye damage.
Older adults need to be extra careful in the summer months. One reason is that as we age, our bodies don’t adjust to temperature changes as efficiently as they did when we were younger. Chronic health conditions and even some medications can also make us more susceptible to heat and sun-related health problems.
So, before the next heat wave hits, take time to consider the tips below to make this summer a safe and healthy one.
Warm-Weather Safety Tips
Follow these simple suggestions to enjoy the season safely.
- Drink plenty of fluids. Dehydration is a common concern in hot weather, so be sure to drink 48-64 ounces of water, clear juices, and other liquids each day. Remember, beverages containing alcohol and caffeine can dehydrate you, so avoid those when it’s very hot outside.
- Protect your skin. Believe it or not, the sun can damage your skin after just 15 minutes of exposure. Protect your skin with a broad-spectrum sunscreen that blocks both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or more. Apply sunscreen about 20 minutes before going outside, and reapply as needed.
- Dress for the occasion. Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothes in the summer sun, and don’t forget your hat and sunglasses! A wide-brimmed hat will keep the sun’s rays off of your face and neck, and wrap-around sunglasses offer the best eye protection.
For extra safety, wear sunglasses that block UVA and UVB rays. This will help reduce the cumulative effect of damage that can cause cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.
- Control your climate. Some people still consider air conditioning to be a luxury, but in fact, it can be a lifesaver on hot, humid days. So if you have central air or a window A/C unit, turn it on and keep it on!
When planning activities outside the home, look for places where air conditioning is available—indoor malls, restaurants, movie theaters, and the public library, just to name a few.
- Check your meds. Many medications, including some antibiotics, cancer drugs, and antidepressants, can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight. This could increase your risk of sunburn, so ask your doctor or pharmacist about the drugs you take, just to be sure.
Recognizing Dehydration and Heat Exhaustion
Do you know the signs of dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke? These conditions can occur more quickly in the summertime — especially for older people.
- Dehydration occurs when your body doesn’t have the fluids it needs to function properly. The most common symptoms include dizziness, headache, muscle cramps, a rapid heart rate, fatigue, very dry skin, and dark yellow urine.
- Heat stroke occurs when you are dehydrated and exposed to too much heat. Symptoms can include heavy sweating or no sweating, muscle cramps, tiredness, weakness, paleness, cold or clammy skin, dizziness, headache, nausea or vomiting, a fast and weak pulse, and fainting.
If you experience any of these symptoms, move to a cool, shady place and remove any extra clothing. If possible, douse yourself with cool water, or put cloths soaked with cool water on your wrists, ankles, armpits, and neck to lower your body temperature.
If possible, drink water or a sports drink. And don’t be shy about asking someone for help or calling 911. If heat exhaustion is left untreated, it can lead to heat stroke, a medical emergency in which the body loses its ability to regulate its core temperature.
More Health and Wellness Tips from Otterbein SeniorLife
One final tip: Spending your leisure time with friends, neighbors, and family members is another great way to keep your cool when the weather gets hot. You can share your sunscreen, compare sun hats, and seek out air-conditioned spaces together!
At Otterbein SeniorLife, health goes beyond eating right and getting exercise. In fact, we recognize and promote nine different degrees of wellness. Together, these areas make up what we call “complete wellness.” They include:
Interested in learning more about our philosophy? Download our free guide to the nine degrees of wellness at Otterbein, and you’ll also get tips you can use today to live a healthier, more fulfilling life.