There’s lots to love about summer, especially in our sunburnt country. Dazzling blue skies, glittering water and plenty of excuses for an ice cream! Perfect.
It can get harder to enjoy the heat as you get older, though. You become more susceptible to heat-related health problems.
There are a couple of reasons for that. Firstly, you sweat less as you get older – which sounds great until you remember that sweating is your body’s best way of regulating your temperature. Secondly, you store fat differently too and that complicates heat regulation.
And that’s before you factor in the impact of poor circulation and chronic conditions like obesity, heart disease, diabetes, dementia or heart disease and the side effects of medication.
So, how do you enjoy a good summer without putting your health at risk? Try these summer safety tips.
1. Stay hydrated
This is crucial. In summer, it’s a good idea to focus on water and juice, not tea, coffee, alcohol or fizzy, sugary drinks which can all dehydrate you.
Most people need to drink about 8 glasses of water per day to stay hydrated (talk to your doctor if you have heart failure or take diuretic medication as your needs may be different).
Many older people don’t drink enough to keep them hydrated at the best of times, never mind in the intense heat of an Aussie summer. That’s because your sense of thirst diminishes as you get older so you simply don’t feel as thirsty – even though you really need the water.
That means you need to plan to drink water, even if you don’t feel particularly thirsty. To increase your fluid intake, you could:
- Always drink a glass of water before or after each meal
- Have a drink when you take your tablets
- Keep a bottle of water near your chair so you can easily sip while sitting
- Take a bottle of water with you when you go out and sip it regularly
- Set reminders on your phone.
If you get a little bored of water, you could try high-water content fruit and veggies like watermelon, capsicum, cucumbers, strawberries or celery. Or you could make some icy poles from your favourite fruit juice.
2. Know the warning signs of dehydration
What does dehydration look like? Symptoms can include:
- A dry mouth
- Muscle cramps
- Difficulty walking
- A rapid heart rate.
Now, many of those are vague signs that you might put down to any number of causes, meaning you may not realise you’re dehydrated.
That’s why it’s a good idea to be alert to the possibility (or probability) of dehydration throughout summer and respond quickly with a cool glass of water. That’s almost always helpful!
3. Plan ahead (know the forecast)
While you can assume it’s going to be hot throughout summer, it definitely helps to know the forecast.
If you know what’s coming up, you can plan around it. There may be some days when the heat is so intense that it’s wisest to stay inside with the air conditioning on. Or there may be a couple of days in the coming week that are going to be cooler than the others, making those a good option for being outdoors.
4. Be aware of medication side effects
You’re more likely to be taking regular medication as you get older. Indeed, many older people are taking more than 5 medications a day, which increases the risk of medication-related problems.
Every medication has potential side effects. Some medications can make your skin more sensitive to the sun. Those include many medications used to treat high cholesterol, high blood pressure and allergies as well as some painkillers, antibiotics and antidepressants.
You should always take your medication as prescribed by your doctor. Just be aware of the potential side effects and what you can do to ease them.
Your local pharmacist is a good source of advice and support here and can even conduct a Home Medicines Review with you to check your medications.
5. Protect your head, skin and eyes
Whenever you’re outside, you should be wearing a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen (which you’ll need to reapply after 2 hours).
6. Cool off
Aim to spend the hottest part of the day inside with a fan or air conditioner to cool you. This doesn’t mean you’re trapped in your living room all summer! You could be enjoying lunch in an airconditioned cafe, strolling around a shopping mall or watching something at the cinema.
7. Know when (and who) to call for help
If you’re not feeling good on a summer day, call for help. You can check in with your family, a friend, your GP, your in-home carers. Alternatively, you can speak to a registered nurse 24-hours a day by calling Healthdirect on 1800 022 222. Better safe than sorry.
How can Focused Health Care help?
In-home carers play a key role in an older person’s support network, especially during riskier times of the year like summer.
Focused Health Care is run by registered nurses who have trained our staff to be aware of the risks and signs of dehydration among older clients. Our carers will often make sure you’ve had something to drink and will check your wellbeing as part of looking after you, alerting your family or doctor if they become concerned about your health during summer.
All information is general in nature.