As Oregonians living in the Willamette Valley, we know how exciting it can be to finally have the rain dry up and the sun come out.
But summer time, and the high temperatures that come with it, can pose some serious health and safety risks for everyone, especially adults 65 and older.
As we age, our bodies become less able to adjust to drastic temperatures. Further, older adults are more likely to have chronic health conditions and medications that impact the ability to moderate body temperature.
Here are some things to keep in mind and ways to stay safe and comfortable during the sizzling months of summer.
Stay hydrated: Does your mouth feel like the Sahara? Well, older adults are more prone to becoming dehydrated than younger people because we lose our ability to conserve water as we age. We also become less aware of when we are thirsty. Keeping a water bottle near you when you’re hanging around the house, and especially when you’re outside, can help remind you to stay hydrated.
Find water boring? Me too. Visit foodnetwork.com/healthy/packages/12-ways-to-make-water-the-most-delicious-thing-ever for a list of flavored water you can make at home.
Chill out: If you have air conditioning, use it. If you don’t have air conditioning, try to plan for outings at locations that do, such as the mall, senior center, library, or a friend’s house. It’s important to know that even small temperature increases can have big impacts on older adults with chronic medical conditions and who take certain prescription medications that can impair the body’s ability to adjust to the heat. Be sure to schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider to discuss any precautions specific to your health.
Dress for comfort: When choosing clothing for a hot day try to select items that are loose-fitting, light-colored and made of natural fabrics like cotton, as natural fibers generally breathe better than synthetic materials.
Protect your peepers: Eye health is imperative for people of all ages, but older adults are more likely to be impacted by cataracts and degenerative eye diseases.
Be sure to select a quality pair of sunglasses to wear (even on cloudy days), and the styles that provide coverage on the sides are even better to prevent irritation and damage to your eyes.
Sunscreen: Your skin is your largest organ. As Oregonians, we sometimes forget that wearing sunscreen on a daily basis is a good idea for protecting ourselves from the harmful effects of the sun.
If you have light colored hair or are bald, be sure to wear sunscreen or a hat to protect your noggin. Try to stay out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., as the sun is most intense during these hours.
Beware of hyperthermia: Knowing the signs and symptoms of hyperthermia is important. Heat stroke is an advanced form of hyperthermia and can be life-threatening, particularly for older adults. Things to watch for include:
· Dry, flushed skin
· Nausea and vomiting
· Body temperature over 104 degrees
· Changes in behavior including agitation or confusion
· Lack of sweating when it’s hot out
· Rapid pulse
· Heavy breathing
If you notice these signs, get medical attention immediately.
(Helen Beaman, the mental health services coordinator and older adult behavioral specialist for Linn and Benton counties, serves the local communities through the Older Adult Behavioral Health Initiative of Oregon.)