Summer provides an excellent opportunity for seniors to get outside, increase their activity, and avoid a year-round sedentary lifestyle. But summer also holds risks -- such as heat, skin cancer and even tetanus -- that may strike seniors more often than the general population.
Older people are disproportionately affected by prolonged heat waves of over-90 degree temperatures with high dew points. Factors include age, disease and even medication.
Many medications often taken by seniors for high blood pressure and heart disease, for example, are diuretics -- they remove salt and fluid volume from the body. Coupled with perspiring from high temperatures, diuretics can lead to dehydration, which, in turn, can lead to discomfort, confusion, damage to major organs, and even death.
Most healthy individuals will naturally replenish their body's fluids when they get thirsty. But for many older adults, the thirst mechanism is not as finely tuned as in younger people. And for those seniors who have suffered from a stroke, Alzheimer's or another brain disease, their thirst mechanism is even less likely to direct them to consume enough fluids.
Drinking at least six 8-ounce glasses of fluid each day will help prevent dehydration. Salt tablets are not recommended because they can cause more harm than good.
In addition, seniors' bodies are not as able to regulate temperature. Check in on frail seniors frequently during the summer to make sure they're taking in enough fluids, their homes are properly ventilated and their mental state is normal. Confusion is a sign of heat exhaustion and dehydration. If a senior has a fever or exhibits behavioral changes from the heat, take him or her to an urgent care facility immediately for treatment of possible heat stroke and dehydration.
Seniors should be on the lookout for skin cancer as well. Age is a factor in many types of cancer, including skin cancers -- basal cell, squamous cell and melanoma. Look for moles that change color or whose borders change, or for rough, raised areas of skin that do not heal, even after applying moisturizers and first aid creams. In the meantime, protect yourself from the sun's rays, particularly if you're fair-skinned or have a history of skin cancer. During a regular checkup, have your physician examine your body for possible skin trouble spots.
Tetanus is an unusual but hard-to-diagnose condition that affects seniors more than any other age group. Tetanus occurs when a microorganism, often found in soil and manure, infects a cut. Get a tetanus vaccine booster shot at least every 10 years. Because some seniors may not have received the original series of tetanus shots as children, they should first have these. A blood test can determine if you've had the original tetanus shots, but your physician may decide it's easier to give you the complete series if you're not sure.
If possible, take advantage of summer weather to enjoy walks or light exercise, such as gardening. It may improve your balance, build muscle mass, lower blood pressure, improve cardiac health, and provide other health benefits -- emotional and physical. But don't do too much too soon. Whether it's gardening or exercising, ease into it and gradually build your endurance. Watch the heat and your fluid intake, and you can enjoy summer in good health.
To help you stay active and fit in the summer heat ActiveForever offers a wide selection of high quality aquatic exercise equipment. Check out our Incline Aquatic Treadmill, water weights,aquafins and more.
While having your fun in the sun, be sure to pay close attention to your blood pressure when spending extended periods of time outdoors. For a limited time only, we're offering the LifeSource UA-767 Blood Pressure Monitor for only $59.95 while supplies last.
This article was written by
Edmund H. Duthie, MD
Professor of Medicine (Geriatrics/Gerontology)
Chief of the Division of Geriatrics/Gerontology
Medical College of Wisconsin
Zablocki Veterans Administration Medical Center
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