Summer is a wonderful time to enjoy outdoor activities and soak in the benefits of sunshine and fresh air. If you’re a primary caregiver to an older adult, and especially to someone with dementia, this is a good time to review summer safety for seniors.
Why is Senior Health at Risk in the Summer?
Older adults typically don’t adjust as well to extreme temperature changes, and it can become more difficult to control their internal temperature to match what’s happening outside. It’s why you may see seniors dressing in layers even when the rest of us are craving air conditioning.
Aging also decreases the ability to sweat, which is the body’s natural way of cooling off. This puts seniors at a higher risk for overheating (hyperthermia) which can lead to dangerous heat stroke.
Additionally, seniors are often taking an array of medications for health conditions. This can also affect their ability to regulate their own body temperature.
Caregivers must also recognize that seniors with dementia are often unaware of their own pain or discomfort and may not be able to voice what they are feeling, including whether they’ve had enough sun, feel dizzy from the heat, or need water to help them cool off. It’s up to you to understand the signs and symptoms – and to act accordingly.
Here are four important ways you can help protect your loved one’s health this summer.
4 Important Summer Safety Tips for Caregivers of Seniors
- Keep them hydrated. You’ve probably heard the warning that if you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. But a senior with dementia often can’t recognize when they’re thirsty or even be able to tell you. You can help by being prepared. If you take your loved one outside even for a short while, be sure to carry bottles of water and make sure your senior drinks often. Don’t worry if it makes them “go” more often, hydration is too important to worry about that. Fruit juice is OK, too, but avoid anything with caffeine (soda, iced coffee/tea, etc.), as these can leech water from your system.
- Keep them cool. Shady spots are best for a senior, but if you plan to be out in the sun, please dress your loved one in breathable clothes, and add a hat and sunglasses. Pack a bag with baby wipes and an ice pack to offer cooling relief as needed. Apply a high SPF sunscreen on their exposed skin before you head out and be sure to take it with you to reapply every couple hours. If possible, avoid taking your charge outside during the hottest parts of the day (between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.), and never leave them sitting in the car if you have to run into a store.
- Keep a sharp eye on them. More time outside can lead to more opportunities for seniors with memory loss to wander. This doesn’t mean you should never take them out, it just requires an extra amount of caution on your part. Farmers markets and outdoor art shows, for example, provide wonderful sensory stimulation, but think about taking seniors with dementia during nonpeak hours. Be sure your loved one wears an ID bracelet with important information for authorities in case they wander. If you can outfit your loved one with a tracking device, even better. One additional piece of advice – take special care if you visit a pool, pond or lake. Never let your loved one out of your sight.
- Keep them calm and stress-free. While you may find joy in attending large outdoor concerts, parades or other summer gatherings, for seniors with dementia, these are major stressors. Loud noises and crowds often cause sensory overload in seniors with dementia. If you decide to go, stay at a distance from the masses. Better yet, watch the fun with your loved one on TV.
Safe and Calm Summer Activities to Consider
- Take a nature walk (bring a wheelchair, if necessary)
- Pack a picnic lunch and find a shady park bench to enjoy it
- Bring the art studio outside on a nice day
- Plan a backyard cookout with a small group of family and friends
- Watch the grandkids, or any school-age kids, play soccer (be sure to dress your loved one using the tips mentioned earlier)
- Tend to a raised garden on their porch or in a common area where your loved one lives
Here’s Another Way to Make Summer a Special Pleasure
Seniors with dementia will find a welcoming, stimulating atmosphere when they live in a memory care neighborhood. And when you, the primary caregiver, have the support of a compassionate, knowledgeable staff, you’ll have more time to make memories and enjoy special moments with your loved one. Remember, it’s just as important to take care of yourself while you take care of someone you love!
To find a retirement community with memory care services, use this handy community locator tool from WhereYouLiveMatters.org.