Long days in the summer sun can be dangerous for anyone if the necessary precautions aren’t taken, and this is especially true for older adults.
According to a 2020 study on climate change in The Lancet, a prominent British medical journal, almost 60 percent more Canadian seniors have died in the last 20 years from extreme heat caused by global warming. As we age, our bodies don’t adjust as quickly to sudden changes in temperatures, and various medical conditions and prescription medicines can contribute to heat-related illnesses.
“Spending time outside can be very beneficial for older adults’ physical and mental health,” says Dr. Lakelyn Hogan, Ph.D., gerontologist and caregiver advocate at Home Instead. “After a year of spending most of our time at home, getting exposure to vitamin D is more important than ever. However, seniors need to be aware of potential summer dangers and take proactive safety measures to prevent overheating, overexposure to the sun and dehydration.”
6 Summer Safety Tips for Older Adults
Hogan recommends the following to help older adults enjoy summer safely.
1. Stay hydrated. Before heading outdoors, make sure older adults hydrate by drinking plenty of water. Pack extra water bottles for all outings, especially when expecting prolonged periods of time spent in the sun. Consuming water-rich foods like watermelon, lettuce, peaches, tomatoes or strawberries is also a great source of hydration. Be sure to avoid beverages like soda or alcohol, which can contribute to dehydration.
2. Protect your skin and eyes. Stock up on sunscreen with broad-spectrum protection and at least 30 SPF to protect exposed skin against UVA and UVB rays. Older adults should wear a hat and sunglasses to keep the sun out of the eyes and off the face. To keep cool and comfortable in the summer heat, opt for light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.
3. Know when to stay inside. Plan accordingly for a day outside by checking the weather forecast for extreme heat alerts. Keep in mind, the sun is strongest from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., so limit outdoor activities to the morning and evening. If it’s too hot, stay indoors in air-conditioned areas, such as shopping malls, movie theatres or libraries. Older adults may also enjoy a staycation this summer to beat the heat from the comfort of home or by visiting local attractions.
4. Keep medications properly stored. Rising temperatures may affect medications, as some need to be stored in cool places to work effectively. Additionally, some medications require older adults to stay out of the sun. Consult with a doctor about any concerns and make sure to read prescription labels to keep medications working as they should.
5. Run the A/C. Many older adults are tempted to save costs by limiting use of the air conditioner as the outdoor temperature rises. This can be dangerous, even fatal. To stay comfortable and save on the energy bill, set your thermostat to 26C (78F) when you are home.
6. Stay connected. Having a family member, friend or neighbour visit regularly is a great way to stay connected and ensure an older adult’s safety during these hot summer days. For those who enjoy gardening or taking a daily walk, make sure a loved one is aware of the older adult’s routine so they can check-in in the case of an emergency. In addition, make a list of all emergency contacts including family, doctors and caregivers, so this information is ready if it is needed quickly.
By minding sun safety guidelines and taking the necessary safety precautions, older adults can enjoy the fun and adventure of the summer season.
Heat Advisory Tips
- Check on elderly loved ones and neighbours daily
- Remind them to drink water and eat foods like watermelon, lettuce, tomatoes and peaches
- Offer to take them to a cool, air-conditioned place like the movies, mall or museum
- Confirm prescriptions are being stored at the proper temperature
- Wear loose-fitting, light-colored clothing, a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen