Summer means gardening, cookouts, and just enjoying the great outdoors, but a heat wave can pose a major threat, especially for seniors. “Seniors won’t have as great an ability to sweat as younger people, and sweat is how you cool yourself, explained William B. Greenough III, MD, a geriatrician and professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. Dehydration may increase the risk of a serious cardiovascular event like a heart attack, stroke, or kidney failure. An Australian study found that during a record-breaking heat wave, there was a significant increase in trips to the emergency room for heat-related illness and dehydration, particularly in those age 75 and older for whom the heat triggered a 13 percent increase in deaths. “It’s very important to stay well hydrated, increasing fluids and salts to accommodate for the salt losses,” Dr. Greenough said. Try these tips to keep your cool during sizzling summer days.
Dehydration is a major concern for seniors in the summertime heat, but don’t wait until you feel thirsty to reach for a beverage. “Drink plenty and a variety of liquids,” advised Heidi White, MD, associate professor of medicine in geriatrics at Duke University in Durham, N.C. “Too much water can lead to electrolyte imbalance. Concentrated urine is a bladder irritant and actually increases trips to the restroom.” Instead, keep plenty of sweat replacement drinks, such as Gatorade, on hand and drink them when you’re sweating more than usual.
Cut Out Caffeine
Skip your usual iced tea or coffee in the summer to help avoid hydration in a summertime heat wave. All that caffeine “works on our kidneys as a diuretic, depleting our bodies of needed liquid,” said Dr. White. “It is also a bladder irritant and increases trips to the restroom. Why spend your summer searching for a restroom?” Opt for water or sweat replacement drinks instead.
Layer Your Clothing
If you’re going back and forth all day between scorching summer heat and frigid air conditioning, dress in layers so that you can adjust all day long, suggested White. Dressing in layers “ensures comfort with indoor air conditioning and outdoor heat,” she said. Also, wear lightweight clothing in breathable, natural fabrics like cotton that allow your skin to breathe, said Greenough.
Skip the Sun Exposure
When the sun is blazing hot, it’s best to avoid being outdoors to prevent overheating, dehydration, and sunburn. Stay inside where it’s cool — if your home doesn’t have air conditioning, head out to the movies, the mall, or your local senior center to take advantage of their air conditioning, suggested Greenough. When you do spend time in the sun, make sure you wear sunscreen to prevent a sunburn, and put on a hat with a wide brim and sunglasses to protect your eyes, said White.
Cool Off Your Kitchen
Who wants to cook — or eat — a hot meal in the blazing heat of summertime? Turning up the stove will only heat up your kitchen and your home, and that may not sound too appetizing. Switch to tasty cold dishes instead, suggested Greenough. Enjoy cold fresh salads loaded with vegetables and fruit, sandwiches, fruit smoothies, and hard-boiled eggs. You’ll feel nourished and keep your home cooler, too, without having to run the air conditioning overtime.
Wash Off the Heat
Taking a cool shower or bath can help bring down your body temperature when your skin is sizzling from the summertime heat. “Evaporation gets rid of heat from the body,” explained Greenough. You can also soak a small towel or cloth in cool water and drape it around your neck or on top of your head to help cool down when you need it, especially if you’re outdoors and can’t get back inside into the air conditioning.
Temper the Air Conditioning
When it’s really hot, do turn on the air conditioning, especially when you sleep, to help you stay comfortable and get a good night’s rest. “Our body temperature naturally drops a small amount at night to promote sleep. Being too hot at night will make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep,” said White. If you don’t have air conditioning, Greenough suggested turning on fans and opening up the windows in your home to allow cool air to circulate and help you cool down with a breeze from the outdoors.
Step on the Scale
Protect yourself by looking for early warning signs of dehydration, such as urine that’s very dark in color, and taking quick action by increasing fluids. Greenough also suggests stepping on the scale and weighing yourself regularly. Know your normal body weight, and look for any deviation. “If you’ve lost 2 to 3 pounds, you need to drink it back up to your normal body weight,” he added.