The summer can be an exciting time of the year filled with barbeques, pool parties and constant outdoor fun. It can be very rewarding to the body and mind, as the sun provides important nutrients such as Vitamin D and improves psychological well-being. Unfortunately, it can also be a dangerous time of the year, especially for older adults.
For senior citizens, keeping cool – and hydrated – is more than just a matter of comfort; it can be a matter of life and death. Dehydration, or the loss of water and salts from the body, is one of the most common forms of heat disease. Other forms of heat disease include heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
As we get older, our bodies become much more susceptible to dehydration and heat-related illnesses. This is due, in large part, to a number of characteristics brought about by aging. One such characteristic is that thirst sensations diminish over the years, inhibiting the ability of people to recognize when they are nearing dehydration and allowing for a serious loss of water from the body. Also, the aging body loses the ability to cool itself at a rapid pace, as it could when it was younger. This fact is especially dangerous because sometimes older adults cannot feel drastic rises or drops in heat levels, which means they could feel fine even when the weather is too hot. Another characteristic includes the thinning of the skin in older adults. As the skin gets thinner, it provides less protection against the harshness of the sun’s rays, which can also lead to dehydration or other heat-related illnesses if not properly managed.
Health issues resulting from the sun can be avoided if a number of simple, but important, safety measures are taken:
- Stay indoors as much as possible during the late morning and afternoon hours.
- If you exercise outdoors, make sure to do so during the cooler hours of the day—early morning and evening. Also, make sure to consult your physician before starting an exercise routine.
- It is extremely important to stay hydrated, so drink a lot of water and other fluids throughout the day, even if you are not thirsty.
- Stay away from alcoholic beverages or those that contain caffeine, as they can increase the risk of dehydration. Sports drinks are good because they can help restore important salts and nutrients into your body and fight dehydration.
- Try to stay in the air conditioning if at all possible. If you do not have air conditioning, consider going to places that do such as the mall, library, grocery store or movie theater.
- If you go outside, wear a hat that can help shield your face from the sun. Also, wear sunglasses and sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher.
- Do not wear heavy or dark clothing.
- Do not do any heavy lifting or other laborious tasks during the hotter parts of the day.
- If you cannot stay in the air conditioning during the hot hours of the day, try taking cool baths and showers to keep your body temperature at a normal level.
- Do not eat large meals. Try eating smaller meals in shorter time intervals.
- Make sure to consult your physician to see how much time you should spend in the sun each day.