How to Summer Properly
Is there a right or wrong way to spend a summer season? Well, if you are elderly there certainly are some cautions that go beyond those that a 12 year old must adhere to. Yet, as we have learned over the last 10-20 years, we all are vulnerable to the forces of nature -- if we want to enjoy to glorious weather our summers tend to offer up, we best pay attention to the warnings we have learned. (Just a word of qualification: I am writing this from New England, where we have four distinct seasons, as compared to Florida where the seasons, generally speaking, do not show nearly the dramatic change in temperature nor nature as many northern states.)
With the elderly in mind, there are numerous areas of precaution that one must consider to allow one to enjoy the summer season to its fullest. The list below, although not totally comprehensive, is a good start towards understanding the needs our elderly (and many of us) have during the summer season.
Heat stroke. This happens when the body can no longer control its temperature.
• Body temperature rises above 103 degrees.
• You become red, hot, with dry skin and no sweating.
• You have rapid and strong pulse.
• A throbbing headache is present.
• Dizziness and nausea are present.
Heat exhaustion. Often a result of prolonged exposure to several days of high outside temperatures.
• Heavy sweating.
• Muscle cramps.
• Pulse rate fast and weak.
• Breathing fast and shallow.
• Skin cool and damp.
• Nausea with vomiting.
Dehydration. Occurs when the loss of body fluids, mostly water, exceeds the amount that is taken in.
• After age 45 we tend to lose water from our body, i.e., 3-5 quarts over a ten year period (primarily from our cells).
• As we age, we lose the sensation of thirst as we once experienced as a youth.
• Elderly often develop “dry mouth,” often due to chronic conditions and medication use.
Food poisoning. Occurs when you swallow food or water that has been contaminated with certain types of bacteria, parasites, viruses, or toxins.
• More prevalent in the summer as we tend to leave perishable foods out in the heat longer (i.e., mayonnaise products, meat, etc.).
Skin rashes. An irritation that can result from an allergy, infection, or skin problem like eczema or psoriasis.
• Outside and exposed to many more plants type irritants.
• Lower resistance/immunity in the elderly.
Another precautionary item to be mindful of is the increased risk associated with falling. Elderly folks tend to fall more often in the summer as they tend to get outside and experience more nature walks. Their already reduced loss of balance increases the number of falls as they attempt to walk over rocks, tree roots, beaches, etc.
Changes in temperature.
• Chronic conditions are affected by more severe temperature change then if the climate were steadier.
• Medications affect the body’s ability to handle significant temperature changes outside.
• Getting a certain amount of sun exposure is good for us (vitamin D), however too much sun and we are prone to sunburn and skin cancers.
• 30 minutes of exposure before reapplying sunscreen lotion.
And, at least for our elderly, summer can bring its own form of depression. For example, many elderly no longer go on family vacations and must remain at home while their relatives are having fun. Or many seniors are confined to “homes” as they can only remember how wonderful their summers used to be when filled with all the activities the nice weather offers.
Summer can be a difficult time for our elderly, both emotionally and physically. It is important to understand what they are experiencing as the rest of the world continues to do all that they used to do. Be supportive, understanding, and attempt to involve your elder at whatever level possible so that they will continue to enjoy to their summers in a safe and happy manner.