Summertime offers the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors, but seniors need to take special precautions when the temperatures rise. As weather extremes are becoming the norm, heat waves can come on suddenly and the elderly have a more difficult time adapting than those who are younger. Combined with this are the effects of prescription drugs which also reduce the body’s ability to adjust to temperature changes.
Physicians and public health officials warn that extreme heat can be deadly. Being knowledgeable and prepared can not only make you more comfortable but can help you avoid a crisis.
Some simple tips for helping you to whether hot weather:
1. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Elderly people may not feel as hot when temperatures are high and can be unaware when their bodies are near dehydration. Drink plenty of cool, non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated beverages. Avoid adding a lot of sugar or artificial sweeteners. When we sweat, our bodies lose vital salts and minerals. Vitamin waters, Pedialyte, and sports drinks help to restore the balance. Eat cold fruits that contain high amounts of water, i.e., melons, apples, and oranges.
2. Seek an air-conditioned environment. If you do not have air-conditioning at home, visit an air-conditioned shopping mall, restaurant, or library. During heat waves, many cities also set up “cooling centers,” air-conditioned public places, for seniors and other vulnerable populations.
Fans and cross ventilation are an option when temperatures are not so extreme.
3. If you cannot leave your home, take a cool shower, bath, or sponge bath. Placing cool towels or cooling packs around pulse points such as the neck and armpits will help to lower body temperature.
4. Stay indoors during the warmest parts of the day—usually between 10 or 11 am and 3 or 4 pm. If you have to go out, wear light-colored, lightweight, loose-fitting clothes and a wide-brimmed hat.
5. Eat light. Heavy and hot meals can be more difficult to digest during extreme heat. Salads and cold soups are filling and satisfying.
6. Know the warning signs of heat-related illness. Dizziness, headache, nausea, rapid pulse, confusion, and breathing problems can all be warning signs that help should be sought immediately. If you are caring for someone elderly who is in distress, don’t hesitate to call the doctor or hospital.