Summer is here, and while outdoor activities remain in flux due to the coronavirus pandemic, now is a good time to make sure you have your summer safety plan in place.
Every year, several hundred people die from extreme heat, according to the CDC, and the majority of victims are older. Increased heat sensitivity and risks associated with chronic health conditions and prescription medications make older adults more prone to heat-related issues.
Another issue is the lack of air conditioning. My parents’ condo did not have air conditioning, and while summers in their mountain community were generally mild, there were heat waves that would send temperatures soaring into the high 80s and low 90s. After they had passed, I spent a week or so there during one of those heat waves and even with a new fan that I bought, it was very uncomfortable. But what may be uncomfortable for someone younger can be dangerous or even deadly for those over 65 or in poor health.
Even more heartbreaking, some older people on a fixed budget fear the high utility bills associated with running an air conditioner, so even though they have one, they don’t use it.
Here are some things to consider as a caregiver when preparing your elder loved ones for the summer heat:
- What are their cooling options at home? Are they adequate? Keep in mind that with coronavirus restrictions, cooling stations that some depend upon in their community may be closed. Have an alternative plan if it becomes too hot for your loved one to stay in their home.
- Exercise is still important. Try to arrange walks or other outdoor activities in the early morning or evening hours, when it’s not quite as hot. Keep outdoor activities brief and make sure to bring water so your loved one stays hydrated. Focus on indoor activities like yoga or dancing to keep older adults active.
- Provide shade: If possible, provide a shady spot for your loved one to spend time outdoors at home. Make sure elders wear breathable, light-colored clothing and wear a hat when outdoors.
- Hydration is key: I found it was tough to get my parents to drink water. It is crucial that older people drink enough water, especially during the summer. Dehydration can occur more quickly than you think and have serious health consequences. Consider adding a lime or lemon slice to sparkling or still water to make it more interesting, or make a pitcher of unsweetened herbal iced tea to encourage extra fluid consumption.