7 Hot Weather Safety Tips for the Elderly
When the temperatures reach 90 degrees F, family and caregivers should make an extra effort to check on loved ones who are 65 years old or older. Generally, people adapt to the usual temperatures in their city; even in places with consistently higher temperatures, like Miami. However, sudden heat waves and large temperature swings are particularly dangerous for seniors. A 2012 study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that even a 2 degree shift in temperature during the summer can increase death rates for elderly people who have a chronic health condition.
Here are 7 tips to help keep a senior loved one safe in the summer months:
1. Keep Cool at Home
Whether a senior is living with you or they are living independently, be sure their home environment is kept cool and comfortable. Keep window blinds and drapes closed on the sunny side of their home. While an air conditioner is an ideal option, a fan or open window can help keep air circulating throughout the home. The extra cooling equipment, however, comes with added home safety concerns. Make sure that chords are not in places where a loved one could potentially trip, slip or fall. Taking cool showers and having an outdoor water mister are additional things to do around the home to keep a senior from overheating.
2. Dress Appropriately for the Weather
Help a senior loved one stay cool with appropriate clothing and accessories. Selecting the right fabric can help improve air flow through the clothes and help absorb moisture from the skin. Choose loose clothing made from natural fabrics like cotton and linen over synthetic fabrics like polyester and nylon. Choosing lighter colors of clothing is better as they do not absorb the sun like darker colors can. Wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses are also highly recommended to provide shade from hot, harmful rays of sun.
3. Keep Skin Protected
When possible, keep a senior loved one out of direct sun exposure. If they must be outdoors, avoid strenuous activity and seek out shady areas. Keep skin protected with sunscreen and lip balm with an SPF, and be sure to reapply often. An umbrella can be repurposed to shield the senior from sun instead of rain, and it would be a good idea to have a fan or a personal mister available for them.
4. Avoid Senior Dehydration
As people age, they are less able to conserve fluids and become more vulnerable to dehydration. Senior dehydration is a health issue that can lead to bigger problems, including strain on their heart, low blood pressure and exhaustion. Older adults must take in enough fluid to keep the body properly functioning and their body temperature regulated.
Avoiding alcohol and caffeinated beverages is suggested as both have a diuretic effect on the body and can lead to dehydration. Be sure the older adult is consuming enough water throughout the day and keep a bottle of water by their bedside and throughout their home. Get creative with fluid options to encourage hydration. Serve them fruit, like watermelon, which is delicious and hydrating. Infuse water with slices of fruits and vegetables like cucumbers, strawberries and mint. You can also try concocting a refreshing “mocktail” recipe with some of the senior’s favorite ingredients.
5. Keep Cool with Indoor Activities
Find indoor activities that a senior loved one enjoys. Seek out air conditioned venues during the hottest part of the day like a shopping mall, movie theater, museum, restaurant or library. Avoid strenuous activity and limit exercise to early morning, late evenings, or have the senior participate in cooling activities like water aerobics – it is low impact and the water will keep them cool.
If there is a severe heat wave and the senior does not have access to air conditioning, cities will often set up air conditioned public spaces called "cooling centers" for vulnerable populations. Be sure to check the senior’s local government sites for access to a cooling center if needed.
6. Watch Medications
It’s important to be extra mindful during summer months with the medications the senior you are caring for is taking. Some medications can cause an increased sensitivity to the sun, making them more susceptible to sunburns. The body’s ability to perspire and regulate its temperature can also be impacted by some medications. Be aware of how and where the senior is storing their medications as well. There is a chance that some medications can be less effective if stored in high temperatures. Be sure to talk with a loved one’s doctor if you have any concerns.
7. Know the Signs of Heat Stress
Older adults who are 65 years old or older are more vulnerable to heat stress. Heat stress occurs when the body is overheated and unable to cool itself. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists the types of heat stress, and they include heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Heat exhaustion is a milder form of heat stress and occurs when the body has lost an excessive amount of salt and water. Symptoms include:
- Excessive sweating
- Vomiting or nausea
- Muscle cramps
- Clammy skin
- Irregular breathing
Heat Stroke on the other hand is the more urgent form of heat stress and occurs when the body cannot regulate its temperature. Within 10 minutes, body temperature can climb to 106 degrees F or more. Heat stroke can cause permanent damage and can even lead to death. Symptoms include:
- Body temperature above 103 degrees F
- Throbbing headache
- Slurred speech
- Hot skin with no perspiration
If you suspect that a senior loved one has a form of heat stress, you should first call for medical assistance in case it is a life-threatening instance, then, assist the senior in cooling down.
- If outdoors, make sure to get the senior in a shaded area.
- Start the cooling process by placing the senior in a cool tub of water or in a cool shower. You can also wrap them in wet sheets and fan the senior down.
- Provide sips of cool water, unless it is heat stroke, for which any fluids should not be given.
- Monitor their body temperature until medical response arrives. If they do not arrive quickly, call the hospital emergency room for assistance.