Summer time is a time for fun and relaxation for most people. But for seniors, who have a higher sensitivity to heat, a little more caution needs to be exercised to avoid any health problems. Older people are at significant increased risk of heat-related illnesses (collectively called hyperthermia) during the summer months. Hyperthermia ranges from mild conditions, such as a rash or cramps, to serious and potentially life-threatening conditions such as heatstroke.
Factors that increase the risk of hyperthermia in elderly people include:
- Age-related changes such as poor blood circulation and inefficient sweat glands.
- Heart, lung, and kidney diseases, as well as any illness that causes general weakness or fever.
- High blood pressure or other conditions that require changes in diet, such as salt-restricted diets.
- Certain medications such as diuretics, sedatives, tranquilizers, and certain heart and blood pressure drugs which can hinder the body’s ability to regulate temperature.
- Taking several drugs for various conditions, (it is important, however, to continue to take prescribed medication and discuss possible problems with a physician.)
- Living alone: some older people are frail or have reduced mobility or have a mental illness which makes it difficult to take adequate care of themselves in hot weather, and they may ignore symptoms of hyperthermia.
To reduce risk of hyperthermia, remember to:
- Stay hydrated
Your feeling of thirst often decreases as you age. So don’t wait until you are thirsty to drink. By the time you feel thirsty, you may already be dehydrated. Aim to drink 6 to 8 cups of water a day. If you intend to spend much time out in the sun, you may want to aim for a higher number of cups to avoid dehydration. If you have a kidney condition, you need to talk to your doctor before you increase the amount of fluid you drink.
Avoid drinks containing alcohol or caffeine as they increase the water excretion from the body.
- Stay cool
Draw your blinds and curtains, and turn on your air conditioner. Try to limit your outdoor activities and stay in the shade. You don’t always feel the effect the sun is having on you in the moment.
Taking tepid (not too cold or too hot) showers can help you cool down. If not easy, you can wet washcloths or towels with cool water and put them on your wrists, ankles, armpits, and neck.
- Dress lightly
Whenever you can, wear loose, light-colored clothes (dark-colored clothes absorb heat). Top it off with a lightweight, broad-brimmed hat
If you are travelling for a summer vacation, additional precautions are needed:
- If you are travelling by car, stop for a rest at least every two hours. Frequent leg movement is important to avoid stagnation of blood in the lower extremities which can cause heaviness, swelling and increased risk of blood clots.
- Make sure you have essentials :
- A sufficient supply of your medications in a secure pillbox.
- Sun protection items such as sunscreen and a hat
- First-aid kit
- Emergency numbers
- Know medical facilities at your destination.