Summertime is an excellent time for outdoor fun and activity. But as we age, taking some care as the temperatures rise is important. Hotter days can be a bad mix with some medications or cause problems for people with chronic medical conditions. Here’s what you need to know to enjoy the season safely.
Why Our Heat Tolerance Lowers as We Age
As we age, our bodies change in a number of ways that make it more challenging to know if we are overheating. Slower brain signaling means we don’t necessarily feel hot when temperatures climb. Thinner skin means we have fewer pores to produce sweat and benefit from cooling evaporation. Lower body weight means there is less insulating fat and muscle which work to normalize body temperature. Those all add up to a dangerous potential to overheat without warning. When that happens, heat exhaustion can set in, which can quickly progress to heatstroke, which is a life-threatening condition.
Different prescription and over-the-counter medications can also interfere with our bodies’ heat regulating system. Certain medications prohibit sweating while others produce sensitivity to sunlight. These can lead to overheating and dehydration.
How to Beat the Effects of Heat
Once you understand how your body has changed and the potential for overheating and dehydration, you can take steps to stay cool and healthy this summer:
- Understand the heat index. The thermometer is not the only gauge to outdoor heat you should keep your eye on. Make sure you also know the heat index. The heat index is the combination of heat and humidity that makes it seem hotter than the thermometer shows. You can learn how to factor the heat index from the National Weather Service.
- Make hydration a priority. Our bodies conserve less fluid as we age, meaning we become dehydrated faster. Making it worse, we often lose the ability to recognize when we are thirsty. That means we are at higher risk of heat-related illness. Unless your doctor has restricted your fluid intake, make sure to drink plenty of water and track your fluid intake. Keep a personal water bottle handy and filled. Take frequent sips and don’t wait until you are thirsty to do so.
- Keep your home cool. Make sure your home stays cool by limiting the amount of direct sunlight coming through windows. Make good use of your shades and curtains, and for large windows that are not covered, you could invest in some heat-control film that will do the trick. In addition, set ceiling fans to rotate counterclockwise to move hot air up and away from your living space to keep you cooler.
- Protect your skin: Skin damage from the sun can happen fast, particularly to thinner and more fragile skin of seniors. When venturing outside in the summer, wear a hat to shade your face. Apply sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. And follow reapplication protocols: Apply one ounce of sunscreen for every two hours you are outside. Of course, if you are swimming, you should reapply more frequently.
- Check your medications. You likely take some prescription or over-the-counter medication on a daily basis. Do you know how those medications react with sunlight? Some can make you more sensitive to sunlight, causing rapid sunburn or rashes. Others can make it more difficult for your body to cool itself, making you more susceptible to heat-related illness. Check with your doctor about whether any of your medications could cause heat or sun sensitivity.
Summertime —and any time— the living is easy at Embark communities. Find an Embark community near you to learn more about what your independent living retirement lifestyle could be like with us.