For most of us, summer brings a chance to enjoy the outdoors, possibly enjoy time by a lake or camping, and other summer activities. We enjoy the sun and warmth, but there are those in our family who are vulnerable to the heat. If you have senior parents, be aware that summer can bring as many risks their way as cold winters do.
The risks seniors face in summer are similar to what we all deal with, but seniors tend toward greater vulnerability on almost all counts. The biggest risks are: heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and dehydration. They are also vulnerable to sunburn and eye damage from the sun’s harsh rays. At all times, it’s a good idea for seniors to stay out of direct sunlight, wear sunscreen and a hat when outdoors, and use sunglasses to help protect their eyes. As much as possible seniors should consume fluids regularly in warm weather, and avoid being outside during the hottest daytime hours.
How can you tell if a senior is suffering in the heat? They may complain of headache, nausea, fatigue, or dizziness. These indicate it’s time to act to get them some relief from the heat, but how serious are the symptoms? It depends on if they are suffering from heat exhaustion, heatstroke, dehydration or a combination of the above. Keep in mind dizziness can put seniors at an increased risk for falling, so it should always be taken seriously to reduce accidents.
Heat exhaustion is when fluid and salt levels in the body drop to dangerous levels. Characterized by heavy sweating and pale skin, heat exhaustion is dangerous but not typically life threatening. If you suspect heat exhaustion is affecting your senior parent, get them out of the heat, and help them to cool down with cool compresses, loosened clothing, and sips of cool, not iced, water. If their symptoms do not improve quickly, seek medical attention – heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke.
More serious than heat exhaustion is heat stroke, when the body stops being able to cool itself and inner temperature reaches dangerous levels. Most distinct is the inability to sweat in order to cool the body down, which may present as hot, dry skin to the touch. You may also notice a rapid heartbeat. Heat stroke can be very serious, and in some cases life-threatening. If you suspect a senior in your care is suffering from heat stroke, get them to an emergency room or urgent care centre immediately.
Staying hydrated is important for all family members, but especially seniors. By the time we feel thirsty, we’re already at risk – and seniors may be less likely to realize it’s happening. As they get older, they are less likely to recognize that they are thirsty, and this can heighten their risks of both heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Encouraging seniors to keep water handy all day, and to sip regularly, is a safer way to ward off dehydration than consuming large quantities at a time. Offering a variety of fluids can help, as can including foods with a high water content such as fresh fruit. It’s important to note that some medications can increase a senior’s susceptibility to dehydration, so seniors should be monitored carefully. Symptoms of dehydration can include rapid heart rate, dry skin, fewer trips to the restroom, and/or dizziness.
More summer safety tips for seniors:
- Check in on seniors regularly to ensure their homes are tolerably cool and they are taking correct precautions around heat and sun exposure.
- Have a plan in place should cooling systems fail or cease to function effectively. If possible, it can be safer to move a senior to a different location while repairs are being made.
- Keeping a senior’s home cool and comfortable is important, but watch out for tangled cords or tripping hazards if using extra fans around the house.
- Ensure they are being mindful of food safety when the temperatures soar. Food should be refrigerated quickly after purchase, and transported food or leftovers handled properly to avoid spoiling. Be sure refrigerators and freezers are working properly.
- Seniors can be just as susceptible to insect stings and allergic reactions as the rest of your family members, so watch for wasps’ nests on their properties, as well as swelling or reactions to a bite or sting. If your senior parent spends time in grassy or wooded areas, or these areas are found near their homes, it’s a good reminder to check for ticks or signs of Lyme disease.
Summer is a wonderful time to enjoy the outdoors, and spend time with family, but always take extra precautions to keep seniors safe while doing so. If at any time you feel a senior’s health is at risk, seek medical attention immediately.
Have questions or feedback on what you just read? Please don’t hesitate to contact us, we’d love to chat with you.
~ Senior Homecare by Angels Calgary team