By: Allison Kauffman
During the summer, I am always amazed at how long my kids can spend time outside in the sun without being uncomfortable. I make them reapply sunblock regularly, but I find it unbearable to be outside anytime the temperature is above 85 degrees. I think back to when I was a kid and could play outside in the heat all day and didn’t even really think about being hot.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the older we get, the harder it is for us to adjust to sudden changes in temperature. Those 65 and older are more likely to have a chronic medical condition that changes normal body responses to heat and are more likely to take prescription medicines that affect the body’s ability to control its temperature or sweat.
There are a variety of heat related illnesses at a number of levels. Heat stroke is the most severe according to the CDC. Signs of heat stroke can include:
- High body temperature (103 degrees F or higher)
- Hot, red, dry or damp skin
- Fast, strong pulse
- Losing consciousness or passing out
If you are with someone experiencing any of these symptoms, you should do the following:
- Call 911 right away- heat stroke is a medical emergency
- Move the person to a cooler place
- Help lower the person’s temperature with cool clothes or a cool bath
- Do not give the person anything to drink
Another heat related illness is heat exhaustion. Signs of heat exhaustion can include:
- Heavy Sweating
- Cold, pale, and clammy skin
- Fast, weak pulse
- Nausea or vomiting
- Muscle cramps
- Tiredness or weakness
- Fainting or passing out
If you suspect someone is experiencing heat exhaustion, you should:
- Move to a cool place
- Loosen their clothes
- Put cool, wet clothes on the body or put them in a cool bath
- Have them sip water
Get medical attention right away if the symptoms last longer than 1 hour or the symptoms get worse.
Other heat related illnesses can include heat cramps and sunburn. Heat cramps are muscle pain or spasms when exposed to heat. If this happens, you should move to a cool place and drink water or a sports drink. You should also wait for the cramps to go away before any additional physical activity. You should get medical help right away if the cramps last longer than 1 hour, you are on a low sodium diet or you have heart problems.
Sunburn is pretty easy to identify for most. Painful, red and warm skin, and sometimes blisters on the skin, can indicate over exposure to the sun. The CDC says it’s extremely important to wear sunblock every time you go outdoors, even when it is a cloudy day. I learned that the hard way in college. I spent the day on a boat with friends and it was cloudy all day, so I didn’t think sunblock was needed. I was wrong! I had severe sunburn with blisters on my shoulders later that evening, and I was miserable for days.
AgingCare.com has some additional tips for seniors in hot weather.
- If it feels too cold inside, try to sit away from the direct flow of air vents and turn the thermostat up slightly.
- If a loved one doesn’t want to stay inside, have them sit outside in a shady spot under a ceiling fan or under a tree.
- Try to spend the hottest parts of the day inside.
- Close curtains or blinds on the east side of the house during the morning and on the west side in the afternoon.
- Drink plenty of fluids, but stay away from highly caffeinated beverages, sodas with sodium and alcohol.
- Have air conditioning on, if possible, but if not, spend time in an air conditioned location.
- Make sure clothing is lightweight and light in color. Hats are helpful, but make sure they are well ventilated so they don’t trap in the heat. A broad brim is also important for shading the entire face.
When it comes to medication, summer sun can impact the safety and well-being of some seniors. There can be dangerous drug interactions and health complications during this time of year. Dehydration can be a problem for those who take diuretics to control certain conditions such as edema, hypertension and glaucoma. Other medications that contribute to fluid loss include laxatives, antihistamines and some chemotherapy drugs. Dehydration can cause lightheadedness and fatigue. Younger individuals will simply drink more when they are feeling thirsty, but the thirst mechanism in older individuals can work less effectively. Seniors may not realize they are dehydrated until they experience more serious symptoms including dizziness, confusion and a racing heartbeat. Everyone regardless of age is encouraged to increase their fluid intake during the summer months.
Some prescription medications can also prompt sensitivity to sunlight. Antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs and some anti-diabetic agents can cause allergic reactions such as skin inflammation, rash and eczema. It’s important to ask a healthcare provider about how each medication may interact with spending time outside in the sun. You can still enjoy the sun though! My mother takes medication for Lupus, which warns of sensitivity to sunlight. She carries an umbrella and wears a wide brim hat and plenty of sunscreen when she spends time outside. She also dresses in light weight and light colored clothing. My mother still enjoys sitting on the beach or at the pool. She just always sits under an umbrella to protect herself.
The other side effect of medication in the summer can be heat intolerance. AgingCare.com says seniors have a reduced ability to regulate body temperature. The addition of certain medications can further weaken or inhibit the body’s normal physiological response to heat and humidity. Drugs like beta blockers can reduce blood flow to the skin, preventing the release of excess heat.
There are some great options for spending time outdoors, without overexposure to the sun. Walking early in the morning or later in the afternoon, when the sun is not as strong is a great way to still get your fill of sunlight. At RiverWoods Senior Living Community and Normandie Ridge Senior Living Community, there are shady walking trails and benches in the shade, where you can sit outside and stay cool. At our LIFE sites, there is plenty of air conditioning to keep our participants cool through the peak part of the day, when the heat index is the highest.