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4 Summer Health Tips for Your Aging Parents

“I’m a little worried about Dad and the summer heat. He loves working in his garden. But I’ve seen how exhausted he gets on a good day, and I’m concerned he’ll push himself too far. How can I help him?”

Older adults can face more health challenges during the summer months because their bodies don’t self-regulate quite like they used to. They sweat less readily and may experience a reduced sensation of thirst – which means it’s easier for them to get dehyrated. Certain medications such as oxybutin, tolterodine or those used to treat high blood pressure can also raise the risk of dehydration or heat-induced dizziness.

Here are four tips to help keep your aging parents more comfortable this summer and reduce the risk of heat-induced illness.

    1. Keep Cool
      Doctors recommend limiting the amount of time spent outdoors during the summer months. Seniors, who are at a higher risk for heat-related illnesses, may not be able to regulate their own body temperature as well as a younger person. Drinking a cold beverage, taking a cool bath or wrapping the head and neck in a damp cloth can help reduce core temperature and stave off symptoms of heat exhaustion.No matter your age, experts agree that the safest place to be during a heatwave is anywhere that has air conditioning. If you or your parent don’t have AC at home, consider making an outing to a public space like a senior center, shopping mall, library or any designated outdoor cooling area.

 

    1. Take Cover
      If you must go out, cover up. Wearing a hat along with light-colored, low-weight clothes can help your parent stay comfortable during the dog days of summer. Avoid synthetics – natural fibers like cotton or linen are more breathable and help wick away sweat. Lightweight fabrics also allow you to cover what would otherwise be exposed skin, keeping the body cooler by reflecting the sun’s rays.Don’t skimp on the sunscreen. Skin becomes thinner and more fragile with age, increasing the severity and duration of damage from solar radiation. Sunburned skin is much worse at effectively expelling heat, so applying your favorite SPF 15 or 30 is vital for protection from heat-related illness. For maximum effectiveness, find a sunscreen with broad spectrum or UVA/UVB protection on the label.

      While you shouldn’t spend too long outdoors, resting frequently in a shaded place can help alleviate the discomfort brought on by hot, sticky weather. You can apply this principle indoors as well – blocking the sun’s rays by pulling curtains and closing blinds during the day makes for cooler homes and lower AC bills.

 

    1. Stay Hydrated
      Proper hydration can spell the difference between a nice day out and an exhausting, potentially dangerous one. If your parent doesn’t like plain water, try adding a twist of citrus or another flavoring. Consider supplementing fluid intake with fruit or vegetables, like a light salad or a refreshing serving of chilled watermelon. Avoid alcoholic or heavily sweetened beverages – both will actually dehydrate them.The key to hot weather hydration is drinking early and often. Encourage them to drink more than they might think they need – and before they feel thirsty. For older adults in particular, the sensation of thirst is a major warning sign that they’re already dehydrated. You can download a hydration app to prompt water breaks throughout the day.

      Seniors who take water pills and those with other fluid intake restrictions should follow their doctor’s advice to know exactly how much they should drink. Additionally, while sports drinks can be an effective way to hydrate and replace lost electrolytes, they are not recommended for diabetics or people on low-salt diets.

 

    1. Be Prepared
      Know the symptoms of heat-related illness. Remind your parent to get out of the sun and rest if exertion in the heat makes their heart pound, leaves them gasping for breath, or makes them feel lightheaded, confused, weak or faint. Seek immediate medical attention if you or your parent experience symptoms of severe heat exhaustion like muscle cramps, headache, nausea or vomiting.Check the forecast for upcoming heat advisories or other adverse weather conditions, then talk with your parent and make a plan. Consider rescheduling activities that might normally be done during the daytime (like gardening and walking pets) to the morning or evening. If they must be active during the hottest part of the day, ask your parent to take more time to rest and give themselves a much-needed chance to cool down.

      If you can’t be there, check in on your parents at least twice a day during a heat wave, especially when the temperatures crack triple digits. When in doubt, it’s best to err toward being overly cautious. What’s merely uncomfortable to you could be life-threatening to an older adult. And if weather-related health and safety issues are an ongoing concern, it may be time to explore senior living options so there’s always someone looking out for mom or dad.

 

Sources:

CDC.gov

UC Davis Health

New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services

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