How is your summer going? Are you staying cool and comfortable as we enter the hottest part of the season? How about your mom or dad? When the summer heat rises, your job is to make sure your loved one is safe and secure. Seniors’ bodies don’t adapt quickly to changing temperatures, so you should build in strategies to protect your older loved ones from overheating during the dog days of summer.
For some seniors, chronic diseases or their managing medications can impair the body’s internal thermostat, making them more intolerant to extreme heat or temperature swings like moving from an air-conditioned house or car into the sweltering sunlight. Multiple sclerosis, diabetes, obesity, and fibromyalgia are a few of these chronic conditions that impair a senior’s ability to tolerate summer’s heat. Poor circulation can also make a senior feel cold even when temperatures are hot, leading to inappropriate clothing choices that trap body heat which could lead to heat stroke.
Here are a few suggestions to help you successfully keep things cool as a family caregiver:
- Proper hydration is essential for both you and those you care for during hot weather. Keep a glass of water on hand. Encourage your loved one to drink throughout the day- most doctors recommend eight glasses. If water is distasteful, add a little fruit juice or carbonation for a more interesting drink. Be careful of sugary soft drinks, caffeinated, or alcoholic beverages as these don’t offer adequate hydration!
- Wear seasonally appropriate clothing, keeping in mind that you both probably need to dress in layers so you can add or subtract as needed when moving from one extreme to another throughout the day. Consider that your loved one might prefer to have the house warmer than you would like; my mother always kept the thermostat set in the upper 70’s no matter the season!
- Summer meals should contain lots of locally sourced fruits and veggies, and cold foods like salads and fruit are all smart components that can help you manage your loved one’s comfort and health during the hottest weeks. Avoid using the oven if possible or use it early in the morning when temperatures outside are lowest. Try using the microwave or toaster oven to avoid heat buildup in the kitchen.
- Try to plan errands and appointments first thing in the morning to minimize temperature swings as you move between indoors and outside, and leave the car windows cracked to help with heat buildup. A windshield shade is also a great idea. Activities like gardening or walking should be done in the early morning or after sunset. Sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat are excellent additions to everyone’s summer wardrobe!
- If the house isn’t air-conditioned, summer is an excellent time for day-trips to the library, your local senior center, going to the movies or enjoying a meal out. Doing these activities during the hottest part of the day can give both of you a much-needed break from the warm house.
For more tips on how to keep yourself and your senior cool during a long, hot summer, check out these 12 Summer Safety Tips for Seniors. And remember, working ahead and having a plan is the best way to navigate family caregiving and stay cool during summer’s heat! Chris and I hope you will join our conversation and share your heart about ways to keep cool this summer.