Summer is on its way and with the temperatures getting warmer, people enjoy getting outdoors. As a nurse, I am frequently asked how to stay safe while participating in outdoor summer activities. This question is especially important for the older population because they are more susceptible to heat related illnesses.
As we age, the ability to notice a change in body temperature decreases. Heart disease makes it difficult for the body to circulate blood properly and some medications such as diuretics can worsen the dehydrating effects of high temperatures (UC Medical Center 2012).
Some symptoms of heat-related illness such as heat exhaustion include:
- Excessive thirst
- Muscle aches and cramps
- Confusion or anxiety
- Drenching sweats, often accompanied by cold, clammy skin
- Slowed or weakened heartbeat
The best way to avoid these symptoms is to stay cool and hydrated. It is important to prepare for the activity beforehand, and to be observant of weather conditions. Here are tips to help you have a safe and comfortable summer.
PAY ATTENTION TO WEATHER FORECASTS
You’ll want to avoid being outside during the heat of the day. It is also important to acclimate to the warmer weather by starting out slow and limiting your time in the heat. If you cannot get out early in the day, it is best to avoid the heat and have an alternate area inside with air conditioning for your planned activity.
Aging skin becomes thinner and allows for increased water loss, thus the need for fluids increases. A good rule of thumb is to pre-hydrate an hour or two before being outside. Then drink plenty of fluids during and after the activity. Also, remember, thirst is the last sign of dehydration, so do not wait until you are thirsty to drink fluids. Try to drink 6-8 glasses of water or juice per day.
Proper clothing is a must in warmer weather. Wear light colored and loose fitting clothes. Do not wear dark clothing, which will increase your body temperature.
PROTECT YOUR SKIN
Sunscreen and bug spray are vital when participating in outdoor activities. Select a sunscreen with at least a 15 SPF. Sunburn elevates body temperature and prevents the body from cooling, so it is important to protect the skin from burning. Also, wear bug spray with deet. Levels of up to 30 deet are safe for all ages over two months. Mosquitoes carry a variety of diseases that are preventable by using a spray. Always apply sunscreen first and then bug repellent. This order will insure that the products are effective.
The summer temperatures should not keep you inside away from all the great activities. However, If you have any doubts, talk to your doctor about a plan.
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Pat Hudsmith, R.N., is the Community Care Coordinator for Blakeford at Green Hills.