The Benefits & Dangers of Sunlight for Seniors
When it comes to seniors’ health, we all want easy answers: A is good, B is bad, take C every morning to help condition D. But sometimes, senior health can be complicated for seniors and senior care providers alike.
Take sunshine, for instance. One day, you might read that sunlight’s beneficial for seniors, providing a range of benefits to their physical and mental health. On another day, you might read that sunlight is harmful to the elderly, putting seniors at risk for a range of conditions.
The fact is that there are both benefits and dangers to sunlight for seniors. If you provide senior care to an elderly loved one, it’s important that you understand these benefits and dangers, and that you know how to keep your loved one safe in the sun.
Sunlight Linked to Healthy Bones, Mood & Sleep
Sunlight has been linked to a range of health benefits, some of which are particularly important for seniors. Most of these benefits are linked to vitamin D. Human beings are only able to produce Vitamin D naturally through exposure to the sun.
Healthy levels of vitamin D carry a range of benefits for seniors that include:
- Stronger bones
- Better mood
- Improved cognition
- Cardiovascular health
Exposure to sunlight is also linked to improved sleep patterns in seniors. Our natural sleep schedule is heavily influenced by sunlight, so a lack of exposure to the sun can trigger insomnia or irregular sleeping patterns.
Sunlight Carries Risk of Skin Cancer
The biggest danger of sunlight is commonly known: skin cancer. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in America, and its number one risk factor is overexposure to sunlight.
Skin cancer and sunlight are linked due to radiation from ultraviolet (or UV) light. Overexposure to UV light is the biggest risk factor for skin cancer. UV exposure also carries a number of other damaging effects for skin, causing sunburn, wrinkles, discoloration, and lost elasticity.
Finding a Healthy Balance
With the benefits and dangers of sunlight for seniors, it can be tough for senior care providers to find a healthy balance. Unfortunately, there’s no clear medical consensus on where the line between safe and unsafe exposure to sunlight lies. There is some scientific evidence that even a small amount of UV exposure can increase your risk of skin cancer. But many medical professionals believe that the benefits of small amounts of sunlight far outweigh the slight increase in cancer risk.
A good guideline to follow is to ensure that seniors receive 5-10 minutes of sunlight 2-3 times a week. This is the amount that is needed to produce healthy levels of vitamin D. It’s also low enough that the increased risk of skin cancer is typically minimal.
That said, senior care providers should apply sunscreen to seniors and themselves any time they are spending more than 10 minutes in the sun, or on days where the sun is particularly powerful. This will help minimize any risks posed by sunlight exposure.
Visiting Angels senior care providers can help your parent or grandparent stay safe in the sun. To learn more about the non-medical in-home senior care services we provide, contact your local office today.