Summer is a great time of year to enjoy the outdoors and be active. You can enjoy the beach, go for evening walks, tend to your garden or sip margaritas on the patio.
But with all the benefits of summer come a few risks. The heat, sun, humidity and your increased activity need to be accounted for. We know being active makes us healthier, so we're going to make suggestions that allow you to play and have fun, while keeping it safe. Here are a few tips to stay safe this summer:
Summer Safety Tips for Seniors
1. Stay Hydrated
With summer comes heat, and with heat comes sweat and with sweat comes dehydration. You should drink at least 8 glasses of water a day, more if you're active or it's particularly hot outside.
Don't let a stiff breeze or cool water fool you. If the sun is beating down on you, you're body will still be sweating and losing water even if you don't notice it, because the wind is whisking the sweat off your skin.
Another danger is that some older adults who suffer from incontinence or a urinary tract infection (UTI) deliberately avoid drinking, so they won't have to urinate. Staying hydrated is priority number one! If you suffer from incontinence, get prepared and wear pads when you know you're going to be outdoors. If you're suffering from a UTI, get it treated immediately, but don't stop drinking in the interim.
2. Stay Out of the Sun
If you're going to be out during the day, find some shade and avoid the sun in the middle of the day. If you're out on the patio, deck or on a beach, make sure you're under the shade of a tree, awning or sun umbrella. If you're going to the park to get some fresh air and exercise, walk under the trees and take a seat on a bench in the shade. Walk on the shady side of the street if possible. Shop indoors on particularly hot days, you'll enjoy the air conditioning of a mall as well.
3. Do Your Activities In the Morning or the Evening
There's a reason why many Mediterranean cultures have midday siestas, and it's not because they're lazy. The midday sun is just too hot to be active in. Instead, they work and exercise in the mornings and evenings to avoid the hottest period of the day. You should consider the same. In some areas, the difference in temperature between early morning and high noon can be a full 20 degrees!
4. Use Your Air Conditioning
Don't be stingy with your air conditioning. Use it to keep your home at a comfortable temperature, whatever that may mean for you. This is especially important during heat waves, which we seem to be experiencing with more frequency. When temperatures get up to 35-40 degrees it's imperative, especially for older adults, to find air conditioned spaces to live and sleep in. If you don't have central air, consider getting a window air conditioner. Buy and install one before the next heat wave, when they'll be sold out and finding an installer on short notice will be difficult.
5. Wear Sunscreen Lotion
If you're out in the sun, you should wear sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more. If you have difficulty applying and reaching certain body parts try a spray or ask a friend to help out.
If you plan on being in the water, make sure your sunscreen is waterproof and re-apply every few hours. This will help you avoid getting sun burnt, which can be uncomfortable and dangerous in the short term, raising the risk of heat stroke and dehydration. In the long term, wearing sun screen will help you avoid skin cancer.
6. Wear a Hat
Hats can help keep the sun off your head, face and the back of your neck. Keeping your head cool is the number one priority to avoid heat stroke in very hot and sunny conditions. Get a wide brimmed hat, and make sure it's made of a material that's breathable, so it doesn't capture the heat.
7. Wear Appropriate Clothing
When it's hot and humid, function comes before beauty. Avoid dark clothing, which attracts the heat of the sun. Wear cool, light fabrics. Try summer dresses, shorts, short sleeves or even tank tops. Carry a sweater with you if you're moving in and out of air conditioned spaces.
8. Wear Sunglasses
As we age our vision tends to decline. Avoid stressing your eyes unnecessarily and wear sunglasses with UVA/UVB protection, this will help avoid and or prevent irritation from cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma or light sensitivity. If you have glaucoma, experts from the Glaucoma Research Foundation recommend you use sunglasses with an anti-reflective lens coating and an amber (yellow) tint.
There are plenty of great options out there whether you need prescription lenses or not, to help you deal with the glare and UV rays of the sun, take advantage. You don't have to spend a fortune either, you can get a pair of sunglasses with full UVA/UVB protection for $20 or less at your pharmacy, Walmart or Amazon.
9. Take it Easy
Don't push it. When it's hot out there, take a seat frequently and avoid over exertion. Walk a little slower. Avoid hills. Take the elevator instead of the stairs. Leave your gardening for a cooler day.
10. Consult Your Doctor
Before the summer starts, and you get more active, consult your doctor to find out if she or he recommends any limitations given your health condition and / or medications. She may recommend exercising but with a target heart rate limitation, and for a maximum duration period.
11. Check the Temperature Forecast Before Planning Your Day
Before stepping out, find out the forecast for the day. Knowing the temperature will help you dress accordingly and plan your activities to avoid and prepare for the hottest periods of the day.
12. Check Your Medications
Some medications can create sensitivities to sunlight, making it easier for you to burn in the summer (or any) sun, even if your exposed to the sunlight for only a short period of time. This may necessitate you either cover yourself completely or, if it's too hot for that option, stay in the shade or indoors.
Some medications you might want to ask your doctor about regarding the risk of sun burns or skin rashes include antibiotics (tetracycline, Cipro and others), anti-inflammatories (ibuprofen, naproxen), diuretics and many others. Check here for a full list.
13. Check-up On Loved Ones
This is especially true during heat waves. Check up on your elderly loved ones to ensure their living conditions are safe.
Make sure their air conditioning is working and turned on and all their living quarters are cool enough. If not, perhaps a stand up fan can be an additional help. Make sure your loved one is staying hydrated and if there are any power outages (which is more common during heat weaves), their needs are being met (staying cool, hydrated, fed, lights working, plumbing working). If not, perhaps you can invite them over until power is restored, or the heat wave passes.