Keeping Seniors Safe from the Heat
By Joan Weems, RN, Victory Home Health, Texoma LIVING WELL Magazine
Spring is here and summer is just around the corner. Sunny days uplift spirits. But, we, as seniors, need to take special precautions to make sure our enjoyment of summer is not eclipsed by the pain of sunburn or the harmful effects of dehydration and heat illness. Our bodies change as we age, making us more vulnerable to the summer’s heat and humidity. We don’t sweat as effectively and we have poorer circulation. The odds of developing skin cancer is 40-50% before age 65, and the percentage rises as we age.
We, as seniors, become less sensitive to heat and the feeling of thirst as we age. On top of that, certain medical conditions, such as heart disease, obesity, dementia, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease compound the risk because of the medications taken for these diseases. Medications commonly taken are water pills, allergy and sinus medications, antibiotics, antidepressants and nonsteroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs used to treat arthritis pain and inflammation, further increase our sensitivity to the sun. When the temperature reaches the low 90s heat can be very dangerous to seniors.
Some hot weather safety tips are:
- Turn on the air conditioner or go to an air conditioned place—senior center, mall, movie theater, or library, for example. Fans are not sufficient.
- Stay indoors during excessive heat, and when outside, avoid the sun as much as possible.
- Wear wide-brimmed hats to keep the face and head shaded.
- All seniors should wear sunglasses when outdoors because the ultraviolet light rays from the sun causes cataracts, macular degeneration and skin cancer around the eyes. Also, remember it also takes our eyes longer to adjust when coming back indoors, so stand just a few minutes once inside to adjust to the light so you don’t have a fall.
- Use SPF 30 or higher sunscreen and apply it to the skin 30 minutes before heading outdoors.
- Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing because it allows the body to release heat.
- Avoid strenuous activity
- Take cool showers, baths, or sponge baths
- Drink lots of fluid as the need for water and nonalcoholic and decaffeinated beverages rises with the temperature.
Beware of Heat Illnesses
Overexposure to the heat can lead to a variety of serious health problems.
- Heat exhaustion is a warning that your body cannot cool itself. Symptoms include thirst, dizziness, weakness, poor coordination, nausea and sweating. Body temperature stays normal, but the skin feels cold and clammy and pulse can be normal or raised. If this is the case, rest in a cool place, drink plenty of fluids and take a cool shower or sponge bath. This condition can turn into heatstroke, so if you do not feel better quickly, seek medical care right away.
- Heat stroke is life threatening and requires emergency medical help. After calling 911, get to a cool place. Signs of heat stroke include fainting, body temperature above 104° F, confusion, irritableness, staggering, dry, flushed skin, strong, rapid pulse or slow, weak pulse, not sweating, acting delirious or being in a coma.
If you overstay your welcome in the sun and get sunburned:
- Take a cool bath or apply cold compresses to the affected skin
- Apply over-the-counter aloe or a moisturizer
- Do not break blisters. Breaking them will slow the healing process and increase risk of infection. Cover blisters with light, non-stick gauze, if needed.
- Take an over-the-counter pain reliever, i.e., aspirin, Tylenol, or ibuprofen, until redness and soreness subside.
- Continue using moisturizing cream while the skin peels.
However, see a doctor if severe sunburn covers a large area with blisters, is accompanied by high fever or severe pain, and does not improve in a few days. Remember, sunburn is just like getting burned on the stove or by a fire, so we must take care of it. Our skin is the number one factor for preventing infection to us, so we must protect it.
Victory Home Health & Hospice plus Medical Equipment always welcomes your questions or comments. A nurse is always available at 888-815-7922 to help you.