After a long, cold winter and a cold, rainy spring I’m sure most people are looking forward to the summer so they can head outside and enjoy the sunshine. But hot summer days can be problematic for many older adults, especially those with health problems.
I encourage everybody to enjoy as many summer activities as you can but recommend a few safety tips to make your summer fun and safe.
- Stay hydrated
Older adults are much more likely to become dehydrated for several reasons. As we age, our kidneys are not able to conserve water the way they used to. Relying on feeling thirsty is not helpful because our sensation of thirst is reduced as well. Aim to drink between 6-8 cups (1.5 – 2 litres) of water or clear juice every day – even more if you plan on being in the sun. Try to avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks like coffee and soda.
- Check the weather
Check the forecast so you can dress properly (light-coloured, loose-fitting clothing is generally cooler) and avoid really hot days. The sun’s rays are strongest between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm. These are good times to stay in an air-conditioned space like your home, malls, theatres, libraries or senior’s centres. Save outdoor time for early morning or late afternoon.
- Check your medications
Some medications lose their effectiveness in the heat, so it is important to know how to store them, especially if you don’t have air-conditioning. Equally important, some medications can make you more sensitive to the sun, causing a reaction that looks similar to a sunburn. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist to find out if you are taking a medication that can cause this type of reaction.
- Don’t forget the sunscreen and bug spray
Sunscreen is important for everybody, regardless of age, to prevent sunburns and skin cancer. Wear sunscreen whenever you go out and keep it in a convenient place so you remember to re-apply it regularly. And don’t forget to wear a hat and sunglasses to protect your eyes, ears, scalp and face.
Bug spray is important if you are taking part in any outdoor activities. Ticks, which have been spreading rapidly across Canada, can transmit diseases like Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and mosquitos can transmit West Nile Virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis, among others. Be cognizant of any abnormal rashes on your skin after you’ve spent time outdoors, particularly in wooded areas.
- Know the warning signs
When you have an abnormally high body temperature, it is called hyperthermia. This can lead to heat stroke, which can be life-threatening. Some of the symptoms include:
- Body temperature greater than 40 degrees Celsius
- Feeling confused, agitated or irritable
- Dry, flushed skin
- Nausea and vomiting
- Rapid breathing
- Racing heart rate
If you experience these symptoms, get out of the sun, drink fluids, mist yourself with cool water, or use cool sponges, towels or ice packs and seek medical attention.
Plan to enjoy the summer by being safe.