5 top tips to help seniors beat the summer heat

24th Dec 2018 | LIFESTYLE | NIAMH GUY

Hailed by many as their favourite time of year, the summer months offer an abundance of fun-filled activities for all age groups. Whether you love to explore the outdoors, indulge in a refreshing dip or get together with friends and family, summer gives you the opportunity to enjoy a range of different activities.

But as much as summer presents itself as the most enjoyable time of year, it does have a downside – soaring temperatures! While extreme heat can affect our day to day activities, it can also be a serious risk to our health and well-being. Studies have shown that older people aged 65 and over are particularly vulnerable in extreme heat and need to take active measures to keep cool.

With the temperature really starting to ramp up, here’s our top five tips to stay cool and safe and enjoy the warmer weather.

1. Hydration is key

The capacity to respond to thirst is less acute as we age, with older people more likely to suffer from dehydration through inadequate intake of fluids. Decreased sensitivity to heat exposure, blunted thermoregulatory responses and medications with diuretic properties are all factors that can lead to a greater incidence of dehydration among seniors and with the risk heightened by the onset of summer, older people above all need to manage their fluid consumption (approx. 6-8 glasses a day).

It’s important to drink fluids even if you don’t feel thirsty. It’s best to always keep small amounts of fluids readily available. While water is your best option, fruit and vegetable juices are excellent alternatives. Not only do they hydrate you, they’re also packed full of immune-boosting vitamins and minerals and even count towards your five a day. It’s wise to avoid drinks that contain alcohol and caffeine as well as sugary or fizzy drinks. These are mildly diuretic and flush the water out of your body. Not the best option when water is the one thing you desperately crave when it’s hot outside.

Finding it difficult to drink eight glasses of the liquid stuff? Freezing pureed fruit, whole berries or cordial in your ice cube trays is a delicious way to quench your thirst. You can add the ice cubes to a glass of water to give it a delightful fruity twist or if you’re not in the mood for a glass of water, try sucking on the ice cubes for a nice refreshing cool down.

Consumption of water-based foods is supplementary to fluid intake. According to the National Health and Medical Research Council, about 80% of the water we consume comes from beverages, while the remaining 20% is derived from food. Make a point to consume cold, high water content foods, especially fruits and salad. These foods have a higher water content helping to regulate your body temperature and prevent you from becoming dehydrated.

2. Dress for summer – use your body’s natural cooling system

Tempting as it is to strip off, wearing long and loose fitting clothing is much more beneficial when it comes to staying cool. As we grow older, sweat production diminishes. Our sweat glands are a crucial player in our body’s power to regulate our core temperature and for older people, reduced sweat output can adversely affect the ability to cool down.

Fabrics such as cotton and linen enable droplets of sweat to remain close to your skin. As these tiny droplets evaporate they cool you down, enhancing the power of your natural cooling system.

When choosing a summer outfit, opt for light-coloured, long sleeves and trousers. Longer options help to protect your skin from harmful UVA/UVB rays and light colours reflect the heat and allow your skin to ‘breathe’. Make sure to protect your face and eyes too by popping on a hat and sunglasses; not only do they shield you from the sun but it’s the perfect way to complete your outfit.

The final edition to your sensational summer outfit is the one accessory you’d be crazy to go without – broad spectrum SPF30+ sunscreen! Older skin is much more delicate and less able to protect itself making regular sunscreen application even more important. The Cancer Council Australia recommends you ‘slip, slop, slap, seek, slide’ to ensure your fully protected and all set for the outdoors.

3. Chill out

During the summer months, it’s advisable to avoid extended periods of sun exposure. However, becoming a hermit for the sake of avoiding the sun doesn’t really add up to having much fun. Staying indoors is an important aspect of keeping cool but we’re not capable of doing this all day, every day.

If you’re thinking of heading outdoors, plan your day in such a way that allows you to stay out of the sun between 11am and 3pm. This is the hottest part of the day and it is when older people are most at risk. If you’re feeling overheated, move to a cooler place straight away or find some shade where you can rest until you cool down.

When at home, try to abstain from activities like exercising or gardening during the day. These types of activities are better suited to the evening when the temperature has eased and the sun has lost its bite! Most importantly, move indoors if you become too hot and don’t be afraid to lie down for a while if you’re feeling unwell.

If you need to cool down quickly, a good tip is to wet a flannel with cold water and place it on the back of your neck. The dampness of the flannel works to reduce your core temperature, rapidly cooling your system. Ice packs also work wonders for cooling your body and taking regular tepid baths or showers is an effective way of making sure you don’t overheat. The water temperature can’t be too cold though, otherwise your body is in for a bit of shock!

4. Ask for help and plan ahead

Everyone struggles in the heat and day to day activities become more difficult. That’s why when it does get hot, it’s important to ask for help. Family, friends, neighbours and support workers are more than willing to lend a helping hand.

Simple tasks like checking the thermostat, ensuring your medications are stored safely or even just picking up an extra bit of shopping, these are all things people can help you with if you ask them. Arrange for someone to check in on you during the hotter days or if you have a home care package, talk to your case manager about your options.

Heat stroke is a serious condition especially for seniors. It’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of this condition and if you experience any of these, to contact your GP or medical professional immediately.

5. Keep your home cool

As we grow older, the ability to sense heat and regulate our body’s core temperature is compromised, leading to an increased risk of heat stroke and heat exhaustion in seniors. Air conditioning units are one of the most effective ways to stay cool and considered the best protection against heat-related illnesses. Be sure to check, or alternatively have a friend, family member, support worker or professional, check for you, that the unit is set to the cold function and the thermostat is set to the correct temperature. 25°C/77°F is ideal. Further to this, make sure to have regular cool showers.

If you don’t have air conditioning in your home, why not go somewhere that does? It’s the perfect excuse to get out of the house and socialise with friends or family. Why not venture to the shopping mall or catch a movie at your local cinema? If reading is your thing, pop over to your local library where you can bask in the cool air while enjoying a good book.

In the event of an electricity failure, having an alternative way to cool your home is essential. Thankfully, there are a number of resourceful ways to cool your home without using air conditioning. Light-coloured curtains, heat reducing external shades and electric fans are just a few examples.

Electric fans are considered one of the most popular alternatives to air conditioning units but sadly, they can be deceptive. They tend to circulate hot air around the room and ultimately, in most cases, they can cause you to overheat rather than cool you down. If using a fan is your only option, luckily, there are some ingenious ways to avoid this common problem.

  • be sure to position your fans facing outwards. If you place your fan facing out your window, it will blow hot air outside allowing for cooler air to circulate from other rooms
  • try placing a bowl of ice cubes in front of your fan. The fan catches the cold air generated from the ice cubes and pushes it around the room, and
  • if you’ve got ceiling fans installed, set them to spin anticlockwise (if you look up, they will be spinning clockwise). By spinning in this direction, they will pull hot air upwards and cool the room

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