Summer is here, and it’s a great time to enjoy the warm weather. Sunshine and fresh air are good for the mind and body. This is especially true for seniors in assisted living.
The sun has a real physical effect on us. When we soak up some rays, our body gets a boost of much-needed vitamin D. Vitamin D helps regulate many processes within the body. It also assists with immune system function and calcium metabolism. It’s needed for strong bones, which helps prevent osteoporosis.
When our skin is exposed to sunlight, the ultraviolet B (UVB) rays cause a protein within the skin to transform into vitamin D3, which is the active form of the vitamin. While this is great for our bodies, remember to wear sunscreen and appropriate clothing to avoid sunburn.
Sunshine can also have a positive effect on senior mental health. Older adults who get enough sun tend to have a lower risk of depression. Natural light also helps us regulate sleep patterns, which heavily influences mental wellbeing. Sunlight has even been shown to ease the symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease.
It’s easy to see why spending time outdoors can be wonderful for seniors this summer. Woodhaven Retirement Community encourages all adults to enjoy the warm season. However, remember to do so with caution. Elderly people are more susceptible to heatstroke and dehydration. They can bask in the sunshine and fresh air but should apply the tips listed below while doing so.
Avoid Direct Sun Exposure
Sunshine is good in the right quantities. Too much can be harmful. It can burn skin and cause a person to overheat. That’s why seniors should avoid direct sun exposure. Always have a shaded, cool place to retreat to while outdoors. Bring an umbrella or canopy if tree cover isn’t available.
Consider the time of day before venturing outside. Peak sunlight usually occurs after 10 am and before 4 pm. This is when UV rays will be hitting the hardest, so it’s best to avoid going outdoors or spending time in unshaded areas during those hours.
Wear Adequate Sunscreen
Our bodies change as we age – including our skin. Our natural defenses tend to weaken as we get older. Skin becomes thinner and our immune system isn’t as strong as it once was. These changes increase the risk of conditions like skin cancer.
All seniors should put on adequate sunscreen before going outdoors. Wear at least an SPF 30 product. Remember to apply it before you go out in the sun and reapply as needed. You will need to reapply more often if you are sweating or swimming.
Monitor the Weather Forecast
Keep an eye on the weather forecast before making outdoor plans. This will alert you in case conditions will be uncomfortable. If you notice days of extreme heat coming, plan to stay indoors during that time. This will also give you a warning if storms are expected.
Knowing what the weather is doing will help families make plans with their older loved ones. Try safe summer fun ideas for your elderly parents so you can do more together this season.
Use Climate Control While Indoors
It may be tempting to avoid using air conditioning to cut costs but be careful. Make sure you aren’t putting yourself or an elderly loved one at risk. The temperature can climb indoors just as it does outdoors. This is especially true when your area is experiencing multiple days of unrelenting hot weather.
Most experts recommend a safe temperature of between 68 and 74 degrees Fahrenheit. You should not allow the indoor temperature to exceed 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Doing so could put yourself or loved ones at risk of overheating.
Avoid Alcohol or Caffeine as Much as Possible
Alcohol and caffeine are common finds in summer beverages. Many people like a hard drink while others may prefer the fizzy sweetness of soda. It’s ok to have a beverage every now and again but do so in moderation. It’s best to avoid them as much as possible on hot days.
Both caffeine and alcohol cause diuresis, which increases urination and speeds up dehydration. If you plan to drink either, make sure you are doing so in limited quantities. Drink enough water to make up for the lost moisture.
If you are planning a picnic or gathering that will include seniors, remember to have hydrating foods on hand as well. Some great choices include:
- Honeydew melon
Have Plenty of Cool Water Available to Drink
Over half of the human body consists of water. It’s essential to sustaining life. When we start to run out, there can be serious health consequences. Make sure there is plenty of clean, cool water available to drink this summer.
If you are going to a populated area, know where you can stop for a drink. If you aren’t sure or if water won’t be available, make sure you bring your own.
The Reynolds Institute on Aging recommends that seniors drink 6 to 8 glasses of fluids per day. That’s a total of about 1.5 liters. You may need more if you are spending time out in hot weather or doing physical activity that causes sweating.
Wear Light, Loose Fitting Clothing
Avoid dark, heavy clothing when going out this summer. Lightly colored garments won’t absorb as much heat. Also look for fabrics that are light and breathable, like cotton. You should wear items that offer a comfortable, loose fit so you don’t feel constricted, and heat isn’t trapped.
Cotton is a really good choice because it helps soak up sweat and gives heat a way to escape from the body.
If you plan to be outdoors into the evening, it can help to bring a light jacket in case temperatures drop. Having a layer or two will help you stay comfortable because you can put them on or take them off as needed.
Protect Your Head from Sunburn
Many people forget that their face, scalp, and neck can also suffer from sunburn. Protect your head by wearing a wide-brimmed hat. Sunglasses are great for additional face protection and will help keep your eyes safe from the glare of sunlight.
Look for a hat that has an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) of 50 or higher. Something with a wide brim will help shield your neck and ears.
Be Aware of Prescription Side Effects
Some medications have side effects that make you more vulnerable in warm weather. For example, laxatives, thyroid agonists, neuroleptics, and benzodiazepines can increase your risk of heat-related illness.
Know the risk of what you take so you can protect yourself accordingly. If your medication is a diuretic, then you may need to drink more water to prevent dehydration.
Seniors should continue their prescription regimen as advised by their doctor. They should also eat a healthy diet and get enough rest to stay as healthy and energized as possible. Check out these 10 tips that help seniors get better sleep to get started.
Know Who to Call in Case of Heat Emergencies
Know what to do in case of a heat-related emergency. Dehydration can lead to shock and even death, so a quick response is required.
If symptoms are minor, then getting to a cool place and drinking more fluids or something with electrolytes may be enough. Anything worse should be checked out by a medical professional. Call 911 immediately if you notice moderate to severe symptoms.
Seniors should talk to their doctors about hot weather safety. Your physician can discuss prescription side effects or health conditions that may increase your risk of heat-related illness.