As temperatures rise, it’s more important than ever to stay hydrated. Dehydration diminishes one’s ability to regulate temperature, so there is a greater risk of developing a heat illness. Seniors are especially prone to this threat. In fact, a University of Chicago Medical Center study found that 40% of heat-related fatalities in the U.S. were among people over 65.
Why do seniors get dehydrated more easily? First, they are less able to notice changes in their body temperature. And since they don’t feel their body temperatures rise, they don’t feel the need to hydrate themselves. Also, many medicines that seniors take can contribute to dehydration, as can some health conditions, like heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Fortunately, there are simple precautions to take to keep seniors safe.
Here are seven tips for protecting seniors from summer heat:
- Drink fluids – Offer them plenty of liquids such as water or fruit juice. Avoid alcohol, caffeinated drinks and sodas high in sodium. If the senior doesn’t want to drink fluids, try to get them to eat popsicles or watermelon.
- Dress appropriately – Seniors, especially those with Alzheimer’s, don’t always dress for the season. Make sure your loved ones are wearing lightweight, loose clothing. And have them wear a wide-brimmed, loosely woven hat if going outside.
- Keep cool – Keep seniors indoors if they have central air. If they want to go outside, choose the early morning or mid-evening hours when it’s cooler. Don’t keep the air conditioning set too high, though, so they don’t layer on the clothes, then wander outside overdressed.
- Seek air conditioning – If seniors don’t have central air, keep draperies and blinds closed to block out the sun, and consider renting a window unit for one room where they can cool off.
- Monitor the signs – Watch for signs of heat stroke in your loved ones. Dizziness, nausea, headache, rapid heartbeat, chest pain, fainting and breathing problems are all warning signs of dehydration and heat stroke. If any of these signs appear, contact a physician immediately.
- Rest – Avoid excessive exercise and strenuous activity during heat spells. Keep walks short and exercise sessions brief.
- Rinse off – Have the senior take a cool shower, bath, or washcloth wipe-down if they don’t have central air. Keep the water just below body temperature for maximum effect.
If you know any seniors who live alone, check on them daily, preferably in person. If you can’t visit them in person, ask a neighbor or the local police department to perform a wellness check.