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Keeping Seniors Cool

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Staying safe in hot weather

Most of us welcome summertime’s warmer weather, and while it’s a great time to encourage seniors to engage in outdoor activities and get some fresh air, it’s also important to remember that they’re at a higher risk for heat stroke or exhaustion. Because an older person’s ability to notice changes in their body temperature is inhibited, it’s easy to be in danger. Health conditions like heart disease or poor circulation that affect the body’s ability to adapt to changing temperatures, or even side effects from certain prescription medicines that prevent sweating or cause dehydration can spell trouble. A chat with your parent’s doctor would be helpful to understand which side effects might be associated with their prescriptions or if they have any dietary restrictions like avoiding sports drinks.

Many regions have summer temperatures that can easily hit one hundred degrees, but don’t forget that the heat index (which includes the humidity factor) can make the temperature feel higher. The humidity impairs the body’s ability to cool itself through sweating. Learn to recognize the symptoms of heat stroke and exhaustion, and don’t hesitate to seek medical help if needed.

For a variety of reasons, seniors are often dehydrated without recognizing it. The obvious solution is to drink water throughout the day (cool, but not cold, as very cold water can create cramping), but other ways to hydrate include sucking on a homemade fruit popsicle or eating slightly frozen grapes, berries or melon. Avoid heavy meals and instead opt for cold meals such as pasta salads or chicken or tuna salad.

Heat rises, so staying in the cooler lower levels of the house makes sense. To keep the house cool, invest in blackout curtains that will help keep the room temperature lower. Avoid using an electric fan, especially when it’s more than 90 degrees — it can fool the body into thinking it’s cooler than it actually is. If your parent’s house lacks air conditioning, consider renting a portable A/C unit or buying an inexpensive insert. Alternatively, going to a public place to cool down — like a movie theater, library, shopping mall or recreation center — can be a fun option.

While staying in the shade and wearing light, breathable cotton clothing seems obvious, there are a number of simple hacks you can do at home to cool down. Putting your cotton top sheet in a plastic bag in the freezer for a few hours is one way to keep cool at bedtime. Cooling off with a wet washcloth “bath” is good, but so is wrapping the head in a cool, damp towel. A cool shower or bath is helpful, but so is a dollar store spritzer bottle and a pan of cool water for a foot soak.

Following these simple tips can make staying cool this summer with your senior parent a breeze as well as minimizing the risk for heat-related health problems.