Older adults face a unique set of safety concerns during the hot summer months. This population is more susceptible to heat-related illness because seniors have a higher sensitivity to heat, and it takes them longer to recover when they are overheated.
It is important for seniors to be proactive and take extra precautions to avoid illness during the summer. Rhealynn Nofuente, a nurse practitioner at the Sharp Senior Health Center in downtown San Diego, offers seniors six tips to stay safe.
Dehydration occurs when your body is losing too much water. “Seniors are prone to dehydration because they aren’t able to conserve as much water as they could when they were younger,” says Nofuente. “To avoid dehydration, they should aim to drink six to eight glasses of water a day, and even more if they plan to be in the sun.”
Older adults should be aware of the signs and symptoms that cause dehydration, which include:
- Increased thirst
- Dry mouth or cracked lips
- Low urine output
- Having dark or concentrated urine
- Muscle weakness
- Speech difficulties
Gardening is a popular summertime activity, but it can also put older adults at risk for tetanus infection. Tetanus lives in the soil and can enter the body through small cuts in the skin. Seniors should wear gardening gloves, whenever possible, to help lower their risk for skin irritations and cuts.
“Older adults should also make sure they are up to date on their tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (Tdap) vaccinations to help prevent illness,” says Nofuente. Current Sharp Senior Health Center patients with Medicare can receive free vaccinations.
3. Be aware of certain medications and sun exposure.
Certain medications, such as antibiotics, can cause sensitivity to sunlight and increase the risk of sunburn, says Nofuente. A diuretic, or “water pill,” can put you at risk for increased dehydration. Additionally, some medications are affected by heat and can become less effective if stored at temperatures higher than room temperature (approximately 72° F). It is important for a senior to talk to their primary care doctor for more information on the potential side effects of their medications.
4. Keep cool and avoid direct sun exposure.
If possible, seniors should try to stay indoors between 10 am and 4 pm, when the sun’s rays are the strongest. “If an older adult does not have an air conditioner in their home, San Diego County has designated ‘Cool Zones’ around the county, where they can cool off in an air-conditioned environment,” says Nofuente. (View the list of designated Cool Zones.)
5. Wear appropriate clothing.
When possible, seniors should try to wear loose, light-colored, protective clothing and avoid dark-colored clothing, which may absorb the heat, says Nofuente. Older adults are also encouraged to wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses when outside to avoid sunburn.
Sunscreen also protects against harmful sun rays, which can cause skin cancer. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends a sunscreen with “broad spectrum” protection and an SPF of at least 30, which blocks 97% of the sun’s UVB rays. Sunscreen should be applied 30 minutes prior to sun exposure, reapplied every two hours, and immediately reapplied after swimming or sweating.
6. Stay connected to family and friends.
“For seniors, having a good support system is important not only during these warm summer months, but at all times,” says Nofuente. During the summer, the heat can isolate seniors from loved ones. Seniors should let their friends or family know if they need extra help and keep their medical providers up to date about any of their health concerns.
For the news media: To talk with Rhealynn Nofuente, nurse practitioner, about seniors and summer safety for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.