Summer Safety Tips for Seniors

Senior safety in summer heat

 

 

Summer is around the corner and that means warm weather and more time outside. However, all the sunshine and high temperatures can bring serious health risks to seniors. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “People aged 65 years or older are more prone to heat-related health problems.” 1

Heat related illness and prevention

Heat-related illnesses can include anything from heat stroke, swelling in the ankles and feet, dizziness, fainting, cramps or heat exhaustion. Seniors can even experience hyperthermia, which occurs when one’s body fails to regulate the heat properly, resulting in a body temperature which is greatly elevated above normal.

Heat stroke and heat exhaustion are among the most common summer-related illnesses that can affect seniors. According to the CDC, heat exhaustion is a non-life-threatening condition caused by loss of salt and fluid from the body that results from prolonged exposure to extreme heat. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include headache, blurred vision, nausea, upset stomach, ashen appearance, low blood pressure, vomiting, sluggishness, fatigue, thirst, rapid heartbeat, profuse sweating and an increase in body temperature. On the other hand, heat stroke is a life-threatening condition and requires immediate medical attention. The body is completely unable to cool itself and usually stops sweating altogether.

Older adults are unable to adjust as quickly as needed to temperature changes. This happens with age as skin changes and leads to poor blood circulation and inefficient sweat glands. In a study done by Duke University, “over 80% of heat-related deaths occur in those over 60.”2 Also, older adults tend to go on diets that restrict salt, and a lack of salt can lead to heat exhaustion.

Medications matter

Certain medicines can also increase the risk of heat exhaustion. Diuretics, sedatives, tranquilizers, stimulants, and even heart and blood pressure medication can lead one to be susceptible to heat exhaustion. Other health conditions can pose a threat as well. Those who have heart, lung or kidney disease, who are obese or underweight, have high blood pressure, diabetes, sickle cell trait, alcoholism or the ever-so-common, sunburn, are at an increased risk.

Medications can impair sweating, and a body needs to sweat to cool itself. If a body can’t regulate its temperature properly and rid itself of excess heat, then it is in danger of overheating. Poor circulation also leads to heat stroke because sweating helps improve blood circulation. If someone has poor blood circulation, then he or she probably isn’t sweating as much as needed and there is a risk of overheating. Heat exhaustion can happen anywhere as well. A person doesn’t have to be exerting himself with exercise or vigorous activity to experience heat stroke. If one simply isn’t sweating as much as he or she should be, something as simple as walking or gardening can lead to heat stroke. 

Helpful hints for summer safety

Though the weather is calling your name and you want to be outside enjoying the warm sun, make sure you take some precautions to lower chance of heat stroke, dehydration or heat exhaustion. Dr. Elana Craemer, a family doctor at MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center, gives some tips to avoid heat-related illnesses.3 They are:

  • Always have water nearby to stay hydrated
  • Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothes in natural fibers like cotton
  • Wear shade protectors such as sunglasses and hats
  • Take care not to over-exert yourself
  • The hottest part of the day is between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., try to do an activity outside of those hours
  • Drink infused water by adding fruits or vegetables
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol which are dehydrating
  • Wear sunscreen that is at least 30 SPF

Also, according to the CDC, people aged 65 and older can lose their sense of thirst and tend to not drink enough. 4 This can lead to dehydration since older people are perspiring less as well. This, again, leads to the body not being able to cool itself. In cases of dehydration, heat exhaustion or heat stroke, Alert1 members know they have an emergency medical response team just one button-push away.

Some immediate steps to provide relief include:

  • Move the person who is affected out of the sun and into the shade and cooler temperatures immediately. The best place for them would be in an air-conditioned room where they could lie down.
  • If they can swallow without difficulty, give them water and fruit or vegetables, and stay away from alcohol or caffeine, which can further dehydrate the sufferer and delay recovery.
  • Apply a cold, wet compress to the wrists, neck, armpits or groin area. These are places where blood passes to the surface of the skin and a cold compress helps bring body temperature down to a safe degree. 

Heat and its impact on falling

 A lot of seniors are “snowbirds” meaning they “fly south for the winter.” Places like Florida or the Carolinas are perfect for the cold winter months and they are obviously cooler in the winter than the summer, when temperatures heat up. Active seniors may be used to riding their bikes, walking around the block, or just being outside more, and all these activities potentially increase their risk of falling as well as heat-related illness.

There are plenty of reasons to move to places like the Sunshine State such as the warm weather, no income tax and even the high population of older adult peers. In 2014, Florida had the highest percentage of senior residents according to Census.gov. 5

People don’t think about falling as much in the summer as they do when it is icy in the winter. However, things like uneven patios, outdoor rugs, slippery pool decks and sandy beaches are all hazards that can cause seniors to lose their balance. Plus, the heat of the summer, combined with certain medications and health conditions such as low blood pressure, can cause dizziness and lead to falls. A medical alert system from Alert1 is the perfect summer companion!

Other helpful, hot-weather tips include staying up-to-date on anything that keeps senses sharp like eyeglasses, hearing aids and walking devices. Patio and yard areas should be well-lit, and shoes should always fit well. Flip-flops might be a summer must but for seniors they are a summer don’t.

The summer heat is wonderful when lying by the pool, but it can be hazard when a person takes multiple medications and needs to store them properly. Also, people tend to travel more in the summer which makes managing prescriptions a little harder and may take some extra care. When traveling, someone who takes multiple medications should keep a list of them in their wallet or purse. The list should include the dosage and frequency so if there is an emergency, a first responder will know how to help them. Prescriptions should also be refilled in advance so there is no danger of running out when on vacation. Sometimes that takes a doctor’s approval as well as approval from the insurer. If going to the pharmacy on vacation is the last thing you want to worry about, Alert1 offers a medication dispenser that tracks, stores, and organizes for you, making dosing a snap.

A lot of medications will degrade at 86 degrees. Keeping one’s home air conditioned can help prevent that problem, and though medication is usually stored in the bathroom, a kitchen usually stays cooler. Bathrooms are prone to getting extra hot and humid with the summer heat plus people taking warm baths and showers. Medications should be stored in a cool, dry place. Wherever they are stored, they should be the furthest away from things like a stove, sink, hot appliance or shower.

Help is a button push away

Alert1 provides its members with peace of mind when it comes to heat related illnesses. If you or your loved one are enjoying the summer sun and something seems off, a medical alert system summons emergency responders in a matter of seconds, with just the simple press of a button. Summer is a time to enjoy the weather and spend time with family and friends at the pool. Don’t let something like a fall or heat exhaustion spoil the season.

 

1 Choi, Katie. (2021, May 19). Summer safety tips for seniors: How to help older adults stay healthy when it's hot outside. Care.com. Summer Safety Tips For Seniors: How To Help Older Adults Stay Healthy When It's Hot Outside - Care.com

2 Shoman, Mary. (2020, July 11). How Temperature Can Affect Medication Stability. VeryWellHealth.com. How Temperature Can Affect Medication Stability (verywellhealth.com)

3 Craemer, Elana. (2020, Aug. 1). Senior Living: Avoiding dehydration and heat stroke during high summer temperatures. presstelegram.com. Senior Living: Avoiding dehydration and heat stroke during high summer temperatures – Press Telegram

4 CDC Editorial Staff. (2017, June 17). Heat and Older Adults. CDC.gov. Heat Stress in Older Adults | Natural Disasters and Severe Weather | CDC

5 Hoyt, Jeff. (2021). Statistics about Seniors. Seniorliving.org. Statistics About Seniors - SeniorLiving.org