As summer gets into full swing, it's important to remember that part of the fun is staying safe and healthy. The summer heat and strong sunshine can have unwanted effects if people don't take care of themselves. Experts at Hebrew SeniorLife offer the following advice for staying healthy this summer.
Brought on by extreme temperatures, heat stress (high body temperature) can cause a life-threatening emergency if not treated immediately. Older adults, especially those who are sick, frail or very old, are more vulnerable to temperature extremes than younger people.
Robert Schreiber, M.D., Medical Director of Outpatient Primary Care Practice, Community-Based Programs, Innovation and Development at HSL, offers the following tips for dealing with extreme summer heat:
- Keep as cool as possible.
- Avoid exposure to the sun when it's at its strongest (10 a.m. - 4 p.m.); use sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 15-higher is even better-if you have to be in the sun.
- Stay in an air-conditioned environment, either at home or in a public place such as a shopping mall, movie theater, or library.
- Use fans to draw cool air into your home at night and circulate indoor air during the day.
- Wear loose-fitting, lightweight clothing.
- Curtail extreme physical activity.
- Drink plenty of fluids.
If you live alone, says Dr. Schreiber, have a relative or neighbor check in with you on a daily basis to make sure that you are okay.
Keep Fully Hydrated
Next to oxygen, water is the most important nutrient your body needs to function properly. Staying properly hydrated during the summer heat is an essential step to maintaining good health.
Water, which makes up nearly 70 percent of the human body, plays a vital role in nearly every bodily function, including regulating temperature, carrying nutrients throughout the body, cushioning joints, strengthening muscles, providing moisture to the skin and other tissues, improving the digestive system, and eliminating waste.
Without proper fluid intake, the body becomes dehydrated. Untreated severe dehydration can lead to seizures, permanent brain damage, and even death. Seniors need to take special precautions because their thirst mechanism is not as sensitive as that of younger people.
Nutrition specialists at Hebrew SeniorLife recommend the following tips for getting enough fluid during the day:
- Drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of liquid throughout the day.
- Liquids include not only water, but milk, fruit and vegetable juice, gelatin, ice cream/sherbet, and carbonated beverages.
- Carry a water bottle with you when you leave the house, especially if you are gone for most of the day, and drink from it regularly.
- Drink water before, during and after physical activity to offset the fluid your body loses through perspiration. As the temperature increases, so too should your fluid intake.
Do not wait until you are thirsty to drink, says Dawn Morrissey, R.D., L.D.N., nutrition manager at Hebrew Rehabilitation Center. By the time you feel thirst, you are already dehydrated. Some signs of dehydration include thirst, dry mouth, headache, and dark-colored urine.