Health and Wellness: Here comes the sun: 5 summer safety tips for seniors
Ah, summer: the season of popsicles, sunshine and picnics in the park. While many prefer the warm weather and longer days to the bitter winter cold, there are a few drawbacks to the rising temperatures, especially for seniors.
According to the CDC, those aged 65 and older are more prone to heat-related health concerns. This can be due to three reasons: 1) Older adults cannot adjust their body temperature as quickly as when they were younger, 2) they are more likely to suffer from a chronic medical condition that affects their body response to heat, and 3) many seniors take prescription medication that alters their ability to control their body temperature or sweat.
Despite these summer health risks, seniors can still enjoy the warm air and partake in outdoor activities if they remain aware of their bodies and surroundings. Here are five tips that older adults should follow to ensure a safe and enjoyable summer.
Check your prescriptions
Many medications cause chemical photosensitivity. This often results in redness, inflammation and discoloration in areas of the body that experience long periods of sun exposure. While similar to a sunburn, these reactions only occur after an individual takes certain drugs.
Always check your prescription or talk to your doctor before spending long periods of time outdoors. If you have additional questions, many FDA-approved medications can be researched on the National Library of Medicine’s DailyMed website. Below are common medications that can increase photosensitivity:
- Antibiotics (ciprofloxacin, doxycycline, levofloxacin, ofloxacin, tetracycline and trimethoprim).
- Antifungals (flucytosine, griseofulvin and voriconazole).
- Antihistamines (cetirizine, diphenhydramine, loratadine, promethazine and cyproheptadine).
- Cholesterol-lowering drugs (simvastatin, atorvastatin, lovastatin and pravastatin).
- Diuretics (thiazide diuretics like hydrochlorothiazide, chlorthalidone and chlorothiazide, and other diuretics like furosemide and triamterene).
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen, naproxen, celecoxib, piroxicam and ketoprofen).
- Phenothiazines (tranquilizers and antiemetics like chlorpromazine, fluphenazine, promethazine, thioridazine and prochlorperazine).
- Psoralens (methoxsalen and trioxsalen).
- Retinoids (acitretin and isotretinoin).
Opt for early mornings or late evenings
Did you know that having more than five sunburns can double your risk for melanoma? This is because an excess of sun exposure can damage your DNA skin cells, resulting in mutation or tumor-promoting inflammatory responses.
Because of this, the American Cancer Society advises individuals to seek shade between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. (i.e., when UV rays are strongest), even in the winter and especially at higher altitudes. When you are outside, always wear a wide-brimmed hat to protect your face, and reapply sunscreen at least every two hours. Doing so will help your body stay cool during high temperatures.
Drink plenty of fluids
Your body naturally sweats more when the temperature is hot, especially if you are in sunlight. It’s important to drink plenty of fluids to replenish the liquids you lose through excessive sweating.
Not all fluids are created equal, though. We all know to drink plenty of water, but there are other liquids that help prevent hydration, one being milk. Milk contains sodium, which acts like a sponge and holds onto water in the body. Electrolyte-infused water and Gatorade are also great options.
If you are dehydrated, try to avoid fluids that contain caffeine or alcohol — namely soda, coffee, detox tea and energy drinks. Trade the soda for water and drink frequently throughout the day to ensure you are hydrated and healthy.
Preserve your vision
Your eyes need sun protection too. Prolonged exposure to UV radiation can cause photokeratitis, a painful eye condition comparable to a sunburn but that affects the corneas of your eyes instead of your skin. Symptoms include eye redness, blurry vision, swelling and light sensitivity. Fortunately, corneas will usually repair themselves within 24-48 hours.
Those who spend time outdoors or live in higher altitudes are more at risk for photokeratitis. To prevent eye damage, consider wearing sunglasses and hats, even on cloudy days. Over 90% of UV rays can pass through clouds!
Watch for heat stroke
Heat stroke occurs when your body overheats, usually after prolonged exposure to the sun and high temperatures.
“As the body’s temperature rises at a fast pace, it is unable to sweat and cool itself down,” said Cristina Villahermosa-Calumpang, BSN RN, director of nursing at Villa Valencia Healthcare Center. “Many elderly individuals are at risk of heat stroke because of cardiovascular disease, pulmonary disease, diabetes and more. That is why it’s so important to watch for signs and listen to your body.”
According to the CDC, here is a list of the most common symptoms of heat stroke:
- Altered mental status.
- Slurred speech.
- Loss of consciousness (coma).
- Hot, dry skin or profuse sweating.
- Very high body temperature.
By being mindful of these symptoms, you can help protect your overall health. If, at any point in the day, you notice you are exhibiting one of the symptoms above, move to a cool place, lie down, drink plenty of water and cool your skin with ice packs and soaked sponges. If symptoms persist, call your doctor and 911.
Don’t let the sun scare you away this summer! Seniors can still enjoy the fresh outdoors as long as they remain alert. Before spending long periods of time outside, check your medications, limit time in the mid-day sun, stay hydrated, protect your eyes and watch for heat stroke. Following these five tips can ensure that you have a safe and enjoyable summer full of sunshine and Vitamin D.
Marisa Gooch is a project manager at Stage Marketing, a full-service content marketing agency based in Provo.