It’s summer here in Chicago! For many families, that means it’s time to help the older adults in your household go outside and experience all that this warm, wonderful season has to offer.
One of the most important things you can do as a family caregiver during the hot summer months is to help your senior go outdoors and enjoy the beautiful weather, while also taking care of their health and safety. Hot weather and bright sunlight can pose serious health hazards for elderly adults, and every year, countless seniors are hospitalized due to sun damage, dehydration, and heat exhaustion.
Practicing proper hydration and sun protection are key steps in helping your senior loved one make the most of the summer, while protecting their health and well-being. Here’s what family caregivers should keep in mind:
Sun Protection Tips for Seniors
Enjoying some time outdoors can be an incredibly rejuvenating and refreshing experience, particularly for older adults. In fact, spending some time in nature can have some remarkable health benefits for seniors, and getting some much needed vitamin D from the sun is essential for good health. However, too much exposure to the sunshine, including its damaging UV rays, can have serious health consequences for older adults.
Why seniors are at risk:
Seniors can be particularly susceptible to skin damage, including harsh sunburns, after spending time in direct, UV-filled sunlight. Over time, too much sun exposure can also increase the likelihood for older adults developing skin cancer or melanoma. Meanwhile, bright spring and summer days can be hot and steamy, increasing the chances that an older adult may suffer from heat exhaustion and stress.
How family caregivers can help:
- Help seniors apply sunscreen the right way. Make sure you’re helping the senior in your life use sun protection. Ideally, look for a sun protection cream that offers protection from UVA and UVB rays, with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or above. Apply sunscreen about a half an hour before going out, and make sure to regularly reapply throughout the day.
- Help seniors dress for sunny weather. In addition to wearing sunscreen, it’s important to dress for the weather. Many experts recommend covering up as much exposed skin as possible, with light colored, lightweight fabrics. These outfits can allow seniors to cover up delicate skin, while still staying cool and comfortable. Don’t forget to wear a wide-brimmed hat, which can protect the scalp and offer shade to the face and eyes, as well.
- Don’t forget eye protection. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimate that 20% of cataracts cases are caused by extended UV exposure. Help your senior loved one see more easily, and protect their vision in the long-term, by providing them with dark-colored sunglasses.
- Know the warning signs of heat stress and overexertion. Every year, many older adults are hospitalized due to health problems caused by high heat and humidity, which can be exacerbated by bright, sunny days. Look out for some of the common symptoms of heat stress and hyperthermia, including fatigue, dizziness, nausea, cramps, or headaches. If your loved one is suffering more severe symptoms – such as mental confusion, flushed skin, and a high heart rate – the NIH recommends seeking medical attention immediately.
- Look for shade, and know when to stay indoors. When you and your senior loved one go out, look for shady areas to rest and recharge. This way, you can enjoy the benefits of being outdoors while avoiding some of the worst effects of harsh, direct sunlight. You might look for a shaded porch or overhang, stay under a tree canopy, or create shade of your own with a large umbrella or sunshade. On particularly hot and humid days, it may be more beneficial to avoid the heat altogether and stay indoors. Similarly, remember that the sun’s rays are typically harshest in the middle of the day, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. You may wish to encourage seniors to go outside earlier in the morning or later in the evening, when the sun won’t be as dangerous.
Proper Hydration Tips for Seniors
It’s not an exaggeration to say that water is one of the most important substances on earth. H2O is essential for helping people of all ages live healthy, enjoyable lives. As the Cleveland Clinic points out, water is necessary “for nearly every bodily function, from lubricating joints to regulating body temperature and pumping blood to the muscles.” For seniors, not drinking enough water can have serious health consequences – and dehydration is a common source of concern for older adults and family caregivers during the summer months.
As the Cleveland Clinic notes, dehydration is a leading cause of hospitalization among elderly adults. One prominent study suggests that nearly half (48%) of older adults who were admitted to the hospital had signs of dehydration in their lab results. In the short term, dehydration can cause seniors to feel pain, discomfort and exhaustion; experience confusion and dizziness; and even suffer fainting spells. In the long-term, seniors who fail to consistently drink enough water can experience severe health consequences, including developing kidney stones and suffering from poor cardiovascular health, including low blood pressure and blood clots.
Why seniors are at risk:
Dehydration can cause adverse health effects for people of all ages. Seniors often tend to experience the negative consequences more acutely, and at higher rates, for a number of different reasons.
As we age, for example, we naturally tend to have more trouble regulating our bodies’ fluid balance, which can make it more difficult to stay properly hydrated. Many older adults also stop feeling the effects of thirst or dehydration as strongly over time, causing them to drink less water overall. Meanwhile, many older adults suffer from other chronic health conditions that can cause their bodies to lose fluids more quickly, including diabetes and some gastrointestinal conditions. For other adults, medications can have the unfortunate side effect of contributing to dehydration, as well.
Often enough, the most common symptoms of dehydration – including dry mouth, fatigue, and cramping muscles – are easy to overlook, as seniors and family members misattribute these warning signs to another health condition, or even chalk them up as a natural part of aging.
How family caregivers can help:
Winter, spring, summer, and fall, it’s important to make sure the older adult in your life is staying properly hydrated. Here are a few ways that family caregivers can help their senior loved ones improve their water intake:
- Encourage seniors to drink more water throughout the day. One of the most effective ways to avoid dehydration is simple – encourage your older relatives to drink more water! Experts have long recommended drinking six to eight eight-ounce glasses of water per day for optimum hydration. Others recommend using a simple formula: Take one-third of the person’s body weight in pounds and encourage them to drink the that number in ounces of water, per day. Keep in mind that everyone’s hydration needs will be different! As an example, if your senior loved one is more active or spending time outdoors in the heat, they may need more water than they might on less active days.
- Know the warning signs of dehydration – and when to get help. As a family caregiver, it’s essential to know the warning signs of dehydration. One important rule of thumb to keep in mind: If a senior is complaining of thirst, then they’re already suffering the effects of dehydration. It’s better to start drinking fluids before that dried out feeling comes along. In other cases, caregivers and seniors should be alert for early warning signs of dehydration, including muscle cramps, fatigue, dizziness, irritability, headaches, and dry mouth. For more severe symptoms – like severe cramps, difficulty breathing, or an irregular body temperature – seek medical help right away.
- Make water as accessible as possible. Many older adults and family caregivers simply overlook proper hydration throughout the day. Make it as easy as possible for your older loved one to get water. Keep a full jug of clean water in their refrigerator, keep a jug of water and a cup near their favorite chair, or bring refillable water bottles with you when you and your senior loved one are out and about.
- Find ways to switch up your senior’s hydration routine. Many older adults can find it tough to drink enough water over time. To keep things interesting, and ensure your senior loved one stays properly hydrated, switch up their fluid sources. For example, you could alternate between cold tap water and hot water with a slice of lemon, for instance, or add plain tea, low sugar juice, or a sports drink into the mix. Look for alternative sources of hydration, as well. Popsicles can be refreshing and hydrating on a hot day, for example, and some fruits and veggies (like apples, celery, watermelon, and lettuce) are full of nourishing water.
We’re Here to Talk All Things Senior Care
From the coldest winter nights to the “dog days” of summer, Companions for Seniors is here to help give older adults the support they need – while giving family caregivers the respite they deserve.
At Companions for Seniors, we make eating well and connecting with the community true cornerstones of the care we provide. When the weather gets warm, a companion can help step in and provide for your senior loved one in many different ways – from sharing nutritious meals, to assisting with grocery shopping and other errands, to escorting the senior when they go out on summertime adventures.
Our companions don’t look at assisting elderly clients as a chore, but a privilege. We recognize that going outside, taking walks, and sharing meals can each present an amazing chance to connect with seniors, and help truly enrich their lives.
We’re locally owned and operated in the Chicago area, and our professionally trained and bonded companions offer flexible hours and personalized care plans, designed to help meet the needs of each of our senior clients and their families. If you have a loved one that could use assistance, we’d love to be there for you.
Our mission is to help your elderly loved one maintain their independence and a higher quality of life. We offer meal prep services, companionship, driving services, housekeeping help, and much more. Have any questions? Want to get in touch? Don’t hesitate to reach out through our convenient online portal, or give us a call at (866) 910-9020 to get the conversation started!