In Florida, temperatures can increase to the high 90s or even reach the low 100s during the summer. While the warm weather presents plenty of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors, it also can pose a health risk for seniors. Here are the biggest summer health risks and what you can do to stay safe.
In high temperature conditions, it can become more difficult for the body to regulate its temperature. Heat stroke occurs when the body overheats and reaches at least 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
Heat stroke causes a variety of symptoms, include headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness and fainting. Your skin also may become dry and red. Seniors have the highest risk for heat stroke because as you get older it becomes more difficult to regulate body temperature. One recent study also showed that even a slight increase in temperature can raise the risk of fatality in seniors who have a chronic illness such as diabetes or heart disease.
To avoid heat stroke, don’t stay outdoors in extreme heat for long stretches of time. Come inside where it is cool, drink some water and use ice packs to cool down your body. If you feel seriously ill, call 911 right away or have a loved one or caregiver take you to the emergency room. Heat stroke shouldn’t be taken lightly, especially in seniors.
Seniors also have a more difficult time conserving water as they get older, which puts them at greater risk for dehydration. In addition to heat stroke, dehydration is another serious heat-related condition. If you plan to be outdoors for long periods, you must stay hydrated. Bring a water bottle with you or an energy sports drink such as Gatorade that contains potassium and sodium to replace lost fluids.
Unfortunately, some seniors who live on a fixed income aren’t able to afford air conditioning or they may have an air conditioning unit and turn it off because they fear a high electric bill. If this is the case, contact the Florida Department of Elder Affairs to find out what utility assistance programs you may qualify for. Many counties also have cooling centers throughout the area, some of which include senior and community centers with air conditioning where people can go to stay cool. Taking a cool shower or bath also can help you regulate your body temperature and prevent overheating.
Protect Your Skin & Eyes
If you plan to be outdoors for a while, it’s important to protect your skin and eyes. Wear broad spectrum sunscreen, which protects against UVA and UVB rays, that’s at least SPF 15. Also wear a hat, loose fitting clothing that covers your limbs and sunglasses to protect your eyes from the sun’s rays. You’re at higher risk for vision loss as you age. Prolonged sun exposure can further irritate your eyes, affect your vision and lead to eye issues like cataracts and macular degeneration.
Check Your Medication
Talk to your doctor about how summer temperatures may impact your medications. Some medications can make your skin more sensitive to light and increase your risk of sun damage. Others may become less effective if they are exposed to higher temperatures.
Certain medications, like those for high blood pressure, cause constant urination. While this lowers blood pressure, it also increases your risk for dehydration. However, you must continue to take your medication as prescribed. Drink more water, but if you notice any side effects call or see your doctor immediately.
Summer is a great time of year, but that doesn’t mean you should be less cautious. Follow the tips I’ve outlined to stay safe this summer and to reduce your risk of heat injury.