Top 8 Summer Health Tips
Posted 5/18/2017 by UHBlog
Summer can be a dangerous time for seniors. An analysis of a record heat wave in the Midwest and eastern part of the United States during the summer of 2012 showed that half of those who died were 65 or older.
“Hot weather is definitely a great health concern for seniors,” says family medicine specialist Margaret Apostol, MD. “As we age, our bodies are less efficient at sweating, which is the body’s way of cooling. Also the sensation of thirst decreases.”
To further complicate matters, many older adults have heat-related problems caused by:
- Taking prescription medications that limit the amount of fluids they can safely drink.
- Electrolyte imbalances due to a salt-restricted diet. Electrolytes help your body function in many ways, from regulating your heartbeat to allowing your muscles to contract so you can move.
- Chronic diseases that can impact blood flow or increase the possibility of too much water loss (dehydration), even at lower temperatures.
“‘Too hot’ is related to a couple of factors,” Dr. Apostol says. “One is your body’s sensation of how hot it is. Another is the heat index, how hot you feel based on the outside temperature and how humid it is. The risk of heat-related illness dramatically increases when the heat index climbs to 90 degrees or more.”
Heat stroke can be life-threatening at any age, but more so in older adults. It happens when your body is unable to control its temperature. Symptoms of heat stroke include:
- Lack of sweating
- Dry, reddened skin
- Fainting or dizziness
- Mental status changes to confusion, disorientation or even a coma
- Staggering or lack coordination
“If you think you or your senior neighbor or family member is suffering from heat stroke, call 9-1-1 immediately,” she says. “Use cold wash rags on their head and body to cool them down. Use a fan if one is nearby, and get them into a cooler place if possible. When treated promptly, complete recovery is likely.”
To keep cool and healthy during hot weather, Dr. Apostol recommends following these eight summer health tips:
- Drink lots of water. The rule of thumb is to drink half your body weight in ounces. So if you weigh 150 pounds, drink 75 ounces of fluid. However, check with your doctor to make sure your fluids aren't restricted because of conditions or diseases you may have or medications you take.
- Stay away from caffeinated and alcoholic beverages. While fluids can help replenish you, certain ones – such as iced coffee or alcoholic drinks – are diuretics. These can cause you to lose more fluids than you take in.
- Limit use of your stove and oven. They make you and your house hotter.
- Look at your urine. If you're getting dehydrated, it will look darker or tea-colored.
- Stay indoors and limit activities. Between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. is the hottest part of the day. When it's the hottest time of day, you should avoid exercising and also consider putting off working around the house, gardening and other strenuous activities.
- Stay in air-conditioned areas. This keeps you cooler and lowers the humidity so you can sweat more efficiently. If you don’t have air conditioning at home, try to get to a public building, such as a movie theater or mall. During heat waves, many cities set up "cooling centers" – air-conditioned public places – for seniors and other vulnerable populations. Information on these sites is usually announced over TV or radio stations.
- Dress for the weather. When it's hot out, wear light-colored, lightweight, loose-fitting clothes and a wide-brimmed hat. These, along with high SPF sunscreens, also help protect again sunburn.
- Take cold baths or showers. If you don’t have air conditioning, this can be effective to cool you off.
If your neighbors or loved ones are elderly, check on them a few times a day to ask how they're feeling and if they're drinking enough water. Even over the telephone, you can often tell if they're suddenly confused or disoriented or are complaining about dizziness or having trouble walking.
“Use of common sense when it's hot out is the best way to avoid heat-related health problems,” Dr. Apostol says. “Look at the weather forecast before leaving the house. Then plan and dress appropriately.”
Margaret Apostol, MD, is a family medicine specialist at University Hospitals Concord Primary Care. You can request an appointment with Dr. Apostol or any other doctor online.