The heat of summer is here and it is an important time to review some vital safety tips for seniors. Elderly persons are more prone to the effects of heat and at greater risk for dehydration. According to the CDC, elderly people are more at risk because:
- Elderly people do not adjust as well as young people to sudden changes in temperature.
- They are more likely to have a chronic medical condition that changes normal body responses to heat.
- They are more likely to take prescription medicines that impair the body’s ability to regulate its temperature or that inhibit perspiration.
Make sure you or someone you can trust is checking in on your elderly family and friends. Here are some senior safety tips for the summer months as well as some ways to “beat the heat”.
- Try to plan activities that require going outside during non-peak hours when it might be a little cooler.
- Move exercise indoors. Consider exercising at a gym, walking on a treadmill, or “mall walking” instead of outdoor walks or activities. Swimming and water aerobics are good options as well.
- Drink plenty of fluids (non-alcoholic, caffeine-free as these ingredients have a diuretic effect). Talk with your doctor if you take medications that affect fluid intake, such as Lasix.
- Additionally, it may be important to consume food and drink with sodium and potassium to restore electrolyte balance when losing fluids and drinking a lot of water: broths or soups (contain sodium); fruit juice, soft fruits, vegetables (containing potassium); sports drinks that contain electrolytes.
- Stay indoors in cooled spaces as much as possible. Check your loved one’s air conditioning system, do a maintenance review. If electricity goes out or your loved one does not have air conditioning, consider alternative arrangements when heat is at dangerous levels.
- Be aware of signs of dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
The most common signs of dehydration in the elderly are thirst, confusion, irritability and poor skin elasticity. Keeping hydrated on a regular basis is the most important preventative measure, and individuals should be encourage to drink fluids even when not thirsty as thirst may not be triggered until already dehydrated. Heat and dehydration may make seniors more prone to dizziness and falls and can cause/increase confusion.
Heat exhaustion is the more mild form of heat-related illness, that can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures and inadequate or unbalanced replacement of fluids. Warning signs vary but may include the following:
- Heavy sweating
- Muscle Cramps
- Nausea or vomiting
- Skin: may be cool and moist
- Pulse rate: fast and weak
- Breathing: fast and shallow
Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness. It occurs when the body becomes unable to control its temperature: the body’s temperature rises rapidly, the body loses its ability to sweat, and it is unable to cool down. Body temperatures rise to 106°F or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not provided. Warning signs vary but may include the following:
- An extremely high body temperature (above 103°F)
- Red, hot, and dry skin (no sweating)
- Rapid, strong pulse
- Throbbing headache
Any indication of heat stroke is a medical emergency. Seek immediate medical attention.
Be aware of other summer dangers. Pools can pose a drowning hazard. Safety precautions should be considered if you are caring for a senior in your home with a pool or your elderly loved one lives alone and has a pool. Consider locks or a safety fence. Similarly, talk with your loved one about alternatives if he/she handles a lot of the maintenance around the home, such as weeding, cleaning gutters and trimming trees. This may be especially dangerous in the heat, but may also pose general risks for falling and safety. Insect bites and sun exposure are two other summer dangers. Be vigilant about sunscreen and protect against insect bites. If you or someone you know has a bite that seems abnormal or you notice any unusual symptoms, seek medical attention.
In Florida, another area of “summertime” concern for many seniors is that their support systems dwindle when neighbors spend time up north or away on vacations. If your loved one depends on neighbors for support or you depend on them to check in, be realistic about these changes during the summer. Consider what extra services might be needed, such as hiring a home care aide to visit or assist with errands or transportation. Make regular calls or visits and talk with family, friends and neighbors about a system for checking in, especially during drastic heat or summer storms.