Summer Safety for Older Adults
Summer Safety for Older Adults
Summertime is the perfect time to relax, visit with family, have cookouts with friends and simply enjoy the great outdoors. However, with summer temperatures being the highest of the year, you’ll need to take certain safety precautions to ensure you have an easy, breezy fun-filled summer. At Greystone Health, your health and safety are important to us. That’s why we want to share these summertime tips to help you stay safe all season long:
Since July is UV Safety Awareness Month, we’ll start with a few ways you can protect yourself from harmful UV rays. Known for prematurely aging skin, UVA rays also cause wrinkling and age spots, while UVB rays are the ones that actually burn your skin. Unfortunately, both types of rays may cause skin cancer. Be mindful that skin protection isn’t just limited to the summer months, you should take precautions all year round.
When getting ready for a sunny day, wear lightweight, light-colored clothing as well as a wide-brimmed hat. In addition, you’ll also want to generously apply sunscreen on all skin surfaces that will be exposed to the sun about 30 minutes prior to going outside during the day, even if it’s cloudy outside. Don’t forget about oft-forgotten places, like the top of your feet, your ears, the back (and front) of your neck, behind your knees and so on.
Ideally you should choose a water-resistant, broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. The SPF in sunscreen is really only measuring how long it will protect the skin from UVB rays, as UVA protection is not rated. Keep in mind that sunscreens with an SPF greater that 50 generally only provide a slight increase in UV protection. However, it’s not just about putting on sunscreen, it is also about re-applying sunscreen every two hours as indicated on the package, and more frequently if you are sweating or in the water. You’ll also want to apply a lip balm or lipstick that contains at least an SPF of 30 on your lips as well.
Protect your eyes from UV rays by wearing wrap-around-style sunglasses with 99% or higher UV block. For sunglasses to best protect your eyes, they should wrap around the eye area to protect the eyes from the most angles while blocking 99% to 100% of UV rays. Couple it with a wide-brimmed hat for even more protection.
When you’re outside in the summer heat, especially when temperatures reach 90-degrees or more, you’ll lose a lot of water through perspiration. Dehydration is another huge risk factor during the summer months. If you get dehydrated, it can lead to health conditions such as hyperthermia and heat exhaustion, or the even more dangerous, heat stroke.
You don’t want to wait until your thirsty, as that is a sign that you’re already dehydrated. Not only can you drink plain water to stay hydrated, but you can also snack on water-rich foods, such as watermelon, cantaloupe, spinach, tomatoes, cucumber, broccoli, oranges, apples, and other fruits and vegetables with the highest water content. Make sure to drink more water than you usually do and look out for these signs of dehydration:
- Dry mouth
- Extreme thirst
- Feeling lightheaded
- Cloudy thinking
- Muscle cramping
Older adults are especially vulnerable to medical issues caused by the heat, with the two most critical issues being dehydration and hyperthermia. As you age, your body does not adjust to sudden changes in temperatures like it used to. In fact, you may not even think your hot and your temperature could really be dangerously high. If you have any chronic medical conditions, such as peripheral vascular disease or thyroid disease, or take certain types of medication, your body may have even more trouble regulating to the higher temperatures.
Too much heat can be bad for anyone, but for those who are older and/or have health issues, it can be even more dangerous. Being too hot for too long can cause several issues, ranging from heat syncope, which is a sudden dizziness that makes you feel faint to heat stroke which is a medical emergency. With heat stroke some of the signs include the following:
- A change in behavior, such as confusion, agitation, disorientation or staggering
- A throbbing headache
- Lack of sweating, or red, hot and dry skin, despite the heat
- Body temperature more than 104oF
- Muscle cramps or weakness
- Fainting or unconsciousness
To lower your risk of a heat-related health issues, make sure you’re drinking plenty of water and/or fruit or vegetable juice, unless otherwise directed by your doctor. Be sure to keep your body cool. If you are not able to cool your body down quickly enough visit your doctor or go to the emergency room.
Keep your cool by limiting outdoor activity or staying indoors during midday (between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.) when the sun is at its highest peak and temperatures are hottest. Also, be sure to pace yourself by starting activities slow and gradually increasing your pace. If your heart is pounding and your find yourself gasping for breath while being active outside, stop the activity immediately. Get into the shade or a cool area and rest for a while.
When you’re planning your outdoor activities, you can check with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) UV index to determine what precautions you should take for the day. This UV index measures the expected intensity of the daily UV rays from the sun, with 0 to 2 meaning minimal protection is needed, while 8 or more means you need to be especially careful and take extra precautions. Another recommendation from the EPA is to follow the shadow rule. Look at your shadow and if it’s taller than you are, your UV exposure is likely to be lower. However, when your shadow is shorter, you’re likely being exposed to higher levels of UV radiation.
As you may know, this year’s temperatures have been climbing to new heights fostering heat indexes (the measurement of how the temperature actually feels on the body) that are skyrocketing. For example, Florida and Texas have already seen a significant increase in temperatures with heat index readings soaring above 100. As the summer temperatures rise, it’s important for older adults to have strategies in place to be careful and stay cool. We hope you stay safe and get to enjoy time outdoors this summer.