As I write I have been watching the rain fall onto the scorching blacktop streets of my neighborhood. It feels good on the porch in the evenings. But, the middle of the day is a bit unbearable for me. Summertime is no joke in Alabama. I remember moving South the summer of 1985. July to be exact. Being that I moved from way up North…it seriously took me two entire weeks for my system to adjust. Heat is not anything for anyone to play around with. It can be particularly concerning for the elderly. Here are some tips to help our seniors keep their cool this summer.
Drink Up! The key to staying healthy is to stay hydrated! Drink eight or more 8-ounce glasses per day of water every day. Be aware of the signs of dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. The most common signs of dehydration in the elderly are thirst, confusion, irritability and poor skin elasticity. So, don’t wait…HYDRATE!
Block the Rays! Protect your skin from sun damage by wearing hats, sunglasses and don’t forget the sunscreen! Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher. Remember as we age, our skin becomes more sensitive to the sun.
Dress for Sunny Success! When selecting what to wear go with loose-fitting clothes in light colors that will reflect the sun and heat instead of darker colors that will absorb heat. This will help you avoid a sunburn and stay cool.
It’s important to know that extreme heat can wreak havoc on older adults. According to healthinaging.org, “Every summer, nearly 200 Americans die of health problems caused by high heat and humidity. Hot weather is more likely to cause health problems for older adults for a variety of reasons. These reasons include aging-related physical changes in the body, chronic health conditions, and even side effects of taking some medications.” Remember heat and dehydration may make seniors more prone to dizziness and falls and can cause/increase confusion. But the proper precautions can help set them up for success. If the heat is too extreme…stay inside with air conditioning! Keep you and your elderly loved ones safe this summer and do your part to help them beat the heat.
I remember going to stay with my grandparents during the summer when I was growing up. They had a farm and I would spend the days playing outside and “helping” (see: tagging along and asking a myriad of questions) my grandfather with his daily duties. Whenever I became thirsty and would ask for something to drink he would give me a bottle of water from his truck or the fridge in his workshop. Like most kids, I would have preferred that water to be some kind of delicious, syrupy carbonated drink instead but I would drink it anyways.
When we would come inside, my grandmother would have two glasses of ice water waiting for us on the counter. She would ask if we made sure we had been staying hydrated. As a child, I didn’t really understand the importance of hydration but as I got older and involved in sports I quickly saw the value of drinking plenty of water throughout the day.
I understand that staying hydrated is always going to be a good practice, no matter the age. In fact, now I ask my grandparents if they are staying hydrated. Hydration is a key factor in helping seniors lead safer, healthier lives.
Research indicates that seniors are far more likely to experience adverse health effects from insufficient levels of fluid than younger adults. As such, they are also more prone to dehydration. Changes in their bodies related to aging makes it more difficult for seniors to retain water. On average, seniors have 10% less fluid in their bodies compared to younger adults.
So why should seniors stay hydrated?
5 Reasons to Stay Hydrated:
- Medical Conditions and Illnesses – Certain medical conditions like influenza, high blood sugar, and digestive problems are more common in seniors and can contribute to poor water retention and dehydration.
- Medications – Most medications that seniors take are diuretics, which can increase fluid loss. Medications for high blood pressure, kidney, liver, and heart disease also play a part.
- Decreased in Renal Function – Kidney function, in general, declines with age and becomes less sensitive to the anti-diuretic hormone our body produces to regulate water balance.
- Inconvenience of Going to the Bathroom – Incontinence, weak bladders, and frequent urination can cause seniors to be reluctant to consume large amounts of fluids. As seniors become less mobile, going to the bathroom becomes more of a hassle which also adds to a decline in fluid consumption.
- Decline in Thirst Response Mechanisms – Studies show that the region of our brain responsible for detecting hydration and controlling thirst levels becomes less active with age, causing seniors to underestimate their level of dehydration.
Dehydration is one of the most common reasons for hospitalization among people over 65. So what can we do to ensure that they are consuming the appropriate amount of fluids every day?
Tips for Increasing Hydration Levels:
- Encourage Fruit and Vegetables with Every Meal – Fruits and vegetables contain over 75% of water as well as essential vitamins and minerals. Two or three servings of fruits or vegetables with every meal will increase fluid levels.
- Creative Water Breaks – Look for opportunities to offer water, like after a walk or while you sit in the sun.
- Sparkling Water and Vegetable Juice – So maybe these alternatives do not taste as good as soda, but they can reduce spices in blood sugar and unnecessary calorie consumption.
- Be Smart about Where to Use Salt – Not only does the amount of salt matter, but the type of salt you use can also make a difference. Unrefined sea salt is lower in sodium than most table salt.
The average senior citizen needs approximately 2 quarts of fluids every day to maintain a healthy life. Remember that the important thing is not changing behavior but getting creative in how you introduce water into their lives. For more information, visit www.greatoaksmanagement.com.