Summer safety tips for seniors
Rosemary Laird, MD
Executive Medical Director, Florida Hospital for Seniors
Believe it or not, for seniors these months of heat, humidity and hurricanes present potentially a number of health risks to older adults. Take a few moments now to know the risks, take steps to protect yourself, and then go ahead and enjoy the summertime!
As we get older our body’s need for water increases right alongside the risk of dehydration. It’s a bad combination. So go get yourself a glass of water… and then read the rest of this article.
Believe it or not, the human body is about 60-percent water! Every system in the body depends on water to function properly. For example, water flushes toxins out of vital organs, carries nutrients to cells, and provides a moist environment for ear, nose and throat tissues. On a daily basis 2 to 3 liters are lost each day mostly from perspiration, urine and bowel movements. Lack of water intake to replace what is lost can lead to dehydration, a condition that occurs when you don't have enough water in your body to carry out normal functions.
As we age, there are some key changes in our bodies that affect water intake and make us more prone to dehydration.
• Older adults get thirsty less. The main signal for needing to take a drink is diminished.
• Older adults need just as much water. Those of us in the south need to be particularly cautious about this since our climate creates greater losses of water each day through perspiration.
• Certain medications and medical conditions can cause or worsen dehydration. Talk to your physician if you have questions about this.
The Institute of Medicine advises that men consume about 13 cups of total beverages a day and women consume about nine cups of total beverages a day. For most of us following the “8-by-8 rule” of eight glasses of 8 ounces per day is a good start.
Keep in mind that food usually accounts for 20 percent of your total fluid intake. Many fruits and vegetables, such as watermelon and cucumbers, are nearly 100 percent water by weight so keep a steady supply in your diet. Beverages such as milk and juice are also comprised mostly of water.
Keep your cool!
Another important change of aging you need to know about is that older people may not feel hot when the temperature is dangerously high. Even temperatures in the low 90s can be dangerous for older adults. With our average temperatures hitting 90s in June, July, and August we need to be ever vigilant here in Central Florida.
When temperatures hit 90 degrees Fahrenheit, caregivers should check on older adults, and older people:
• Turn on the air conditioning or go where it’s air-conditioned – a shopping mall, grocery store, senior center, movie theatre, museum or library, for example. (Fans aren’t enough.)
• Drink lots of water and other clear drinks that don’t contain alcohol or caffeine (these can “dry you out”).
• Take cool showers, baths, or sponge baths.
• Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing. Clothes made of lightweight cotton are a good choice.
• Stay out of the sun and wear a hat if you do go out.
• Avoid exercise outdoors if the temperature is 90 degree or higher.
Be hurricane ready
As everyone should know, June 1 was the start of the Atlantic hurricane season. Keep in mind your preparation for a storm requires more than just flashlights and bottled water. Think about your health needs as well.
• Be sure you have ample supply of medical equipment and supplies such as oxygen, nebulizer supplies, ostomy or incontinence supplies and dressings.
• Bring your own medical “first aid” kit and no-wash hand sanitizer/ cleanser.
• Be sure you have current immunizations including pneumococcal and tetanus. If you are unsure of your status, contact your personal physician.
• Keep ample supplies of medications at all times. In an emergency it may be difficult to refill your prescriptions. Discuss with your physicians the possibility of an extra paper prescription so if you are out of the area with phones and internet interruption, you can still get necessary medications.
• Make plans for the special care of your medication (insulin in cool container).
• Bring information on your medical conditions and current treatments.