Not everyone is aware that summer weather and activities may be challenging for older adults. Senior citizens react differently to hot weather than younger people. They are typically more susceptible to dehydration and heat-related illnesses. They may also become disoriented by certain summer activities.
Included here are five ways to help keep the senior citizens in your life active, healthy, and safe this summer.
1: Hydration, hydration, hydration
Dehydration can lead to several serious complications, such as heat exhaustion or increased risk of a fall, particularly among seniors. Senior citizens are generally more susceptible to dehydration than younger adults because of changes in the way the body regulates its temperature and a reduction in the amount of sweat produced.
Some senior citizens may also be taking medications, such as diuretics or cardiac medications, which make them more prone to dehydration. Or, they may avoid drinking water because of the effort it takes to get up and go to the bathroom, especially if they use a walker or are in a wheelchair. Additionally, because the senses dull with age, seniors may not feel thirsty so they may not realize they need to drink water until they are already dehydrated.
There are a lot of ways a caregiver can help a senior citizen stay hydrated. First, encourage seniors to drink plenty of water even if they aren't thirsty, especially in hot weather. Avoid alcohol, sugary beverages, and caffeinated drinks because these can add to dehydration. For most people, water is the best drink to stay hydrated.
Learn the signs of dehydration and check in frequently. If you notice that a senior is losing weight, has very dark colored urine, is experiencing leg cramps, or is feeling weak, nauseous, fatigued, or vomiting, they may be dehydrated. Instead of asking if they are thirsty, just hand them a drink. This is especially important for elderly with significant dementia because they may not know to drink water. Also, make sure that the fridge is stocked with plenty of water.
Finally, speak with your senior's healthcare provider to find the right balance between staying hydrated and managing other conditions. Ask if any medications can cause dehydration and whether the doses for certain medications, such as diuretics, need to be reduced during the summer months.
2: Stay cool
Checking that seniors have regular access to air conditioning (AC) is important to help them avoid dehydration and other heat-related illnesses. In hot weather, a fan is not enough to stay cool, so check that the home AC system is functioning properly. If AC at home isn't available or effective enough during the daytime hours, make sure your senior has access to a nearby, safe location with AC like a senior center or mall. AC is especially important for seniors with respiratory conditions like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) because heat and humidity can aggravate their breathing.
3: Protect skin and eyes from the sun
When planning outdoor activities, remember that seniors may be more photosensitive, or sensitive to the sun, than younger adults because: some medications can lead to increased photosensitivity; thinning skin can leave seniors vulnerable to sunburn; and, eye conditions such as macular degeneration or cataracts can cause eyes to be sensitive to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays.
To avoid sun-related injury, seniors should apply sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 about 30 minutes before going outside, and then reapply it about every two hours. Protective clothing, such as hats that shade the face and cover the head, and light-colored, light-weight cotton fabric shirts and pants are also useful to block the sun's rays and help seniors stay cool. They should also wear sunglasses with UV protection lenses that are UV400.
Consider limiting outdoor time to early in the morning or later in the evening because the sun's rays are strongest between 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM.
4: Take travel precautions for seniors who have dementia
If you are planning a vacation and have invited a senior citizen who has dementia to come with you, make sure to consider their health and safety. People with dementia need familiarity, repetition, and continuity of care. So changing their environment by going on vacation can be difficult and confusing.
Consider planning trips to a familiar place instead of a new destination. A familiar environment is frequently safer for a person with dementia because their long-term memory is better than their short-term memory. A place they know, like a vacation home they've been going to for many years, can reduce stress and confusion from travel.
Make sure to have the person with dementia wear an identification bracelet. Wearing identification can help them find their way to the group again if they wander off.
5: Build and use a support system
A support system is incredibly important for seniors all year round, especially for those who don't have family nearby. Building a senior's support network can be as simple as introducing yourself to his or her neighbors and asking them to keep an eye out for your loved one.
Set up a system so your senior can let others know they are "okay." For instance, if living in a senior housing community, your senior can put a note or a magnet on their front door every morning and remove it at night. They can also send short, daily text messages to family or friends as they go about their day.
Whatever system you choose to use, make sure to pay attention to it and question any irregularities. A support system can be the difference between safety and catastrophe.
By taking special precautions and establishing a support system, the senior under your care can have an active, healthy, and safe summer.