Summer health and safety advice for older people
29th May 2018
Summer is, of course, an exciting time. The weather, hopefully, will take a more positive turn, bringing some sun and warmer temperatures for all to enjoy. But of course, when the climate grows hotter, this can also lead to a number of health issues, especially for older people and those that require the use of stairlifts at home. Although there are a number of things people need to be aware of and steps to take, there’s no reason that the nice weather can’t be enjoyed by everyone, and hobbies such as gardening and trips to the beach can’t be pursued. To help those in their golden years make the most of the hotter months, while still staying healthy and safe under the sun, this guide full of summer health and safety advice for older people will hopefully prove to be a valuable tool.
Heat-induced health issues and their warning signs
Before getting into the various tips and advice for how older people can stay healthy during the summer, it’s important to first clarify the various health issues that can be caused by long periods in the sun and the warning signs to look out for.
One of the more obvious health issues that can arise during hot weather is dehydration but it’s still vitally important to counteract. Dehydration develops as a result of a lack of water in your body and it can turn quite serious if left untreated. Drinking plenty of water is, as a result, vital. Warning signs of dehydration can include a feeling of weakness, headaches, dizziness, muscle cramps, and a loss of consciousness.
Another health issue to be aware of when spending long periods in the sun is heat stroke, a very serious condition that can be deadly. Heat stroke occurs when there is a dangerous rise in your body temperature and it can be quite common, especially when visiting hotter climates than those you are used to. The signs of heat stroke and overheating are headaches, nausea, fatigue, a rapid pulse, a body temperature of 40°C or over, vomiting, losing consciousness, and confusion.
A health issue that should be taken seriously and one that can actually lead to heat stroke is what is known as heat exhaustion. This is caused by dehydration and too much heat impacting the body. The warning signs of heat exhaustion are numerous and include nausea, vomiting, fainting, heavy sweating, dizziness, muscle cramps, tiredness, a pale complexion, cold or clammy skin, and a fast and weak pulse.
For some advice on what steps to take if you are suffering from heat exhaustion, Helen Baxendale, head of clinical governance at Bupa Care Homes, has some excellent suggestions. Helen says that heat exhaustion arises “when people exercise in hot weather when they are not used to it.
“If you have heat exhaustion, you will feel hot, tired, you may have a headache and feels nauseous. If this happens, the first thing you need to do is to cool down. Move to a cool place, remove any unnecessary clothing, lie down and raise your feet so they are above the level of your heart and drink plenty of fluids (water is best). You can also use a cool sponge to cool your skin. Make sure someone stays with you until you feel a bit better – which you should do in half an hour or so. If you don’t start to cool down, or feel drowsy and confused, go and see a medical professional as soon as you can, as you may have developed heat stroke.”
For people who are physically exerting in hot weather, the health issue of heat syncope may come into play. Heat syncope is a mild form of heat illness and occurs when, in the process of trying to cool down, your body causes blood vessels to dilate to an extent that the blood flow to one’s brain is reduced. The main warning signs of heat syncope are fainting and dizziness with or without mental confusion.
The last health issue that older people who want to spend time in the sun need to be aware of is hyperthermia. Hyperthermia is a condition whereby your body’s heat regulation system fails to cope with extreme temperatures. This is a very serious condition with warning signs that include: shivering, slurred speech, slow and shallow breathing, a weak pulse, drowsiness, confusion and fainting.
If you or those around you are exhibiting the symptoms listed above, you should immediately call the emergency services and move to a cool and shady spot if possible, while consuming plenty of water.
How to stay healthy in hot weather
There are a number of ways that older people can stay healthy in the summer and hopefully the below advice, and suggestions from experts in their fields, will prove to be useful for any hot weather that is on the horizon.
Consider consulting your doctor
First things first: as is the case with any issues pertaining to health, it would be a good idea to make contact with your doctor. If the forecast is for very hot weather ahead, or if you are planning to travel abroad, consult your GP about any current health conditions you have and ask if there are any necessary precautions to take. You can also ask if any of the medication you are currently taking will be affected by the hotter temperatures. And of course, it is worth reiterating that should you be feeling unwell this summer, don’t delay and contact your doctor, or indeed 999 in case of emergency.
Take breaks from the sun
Taking breaks from the sun can be key to ensuring good health in hot weather. Visiting places with air conditioning is advised, as is avoiding the outdoors during the hottest parts of the day. For some initial input from a GP, Dr Di Cuffa of Your Doctor, a private GP service in Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire, has some important advice to share for older people who would like to enjoy the nice weather but are looking to stay healthy at the same time: “Sunshine helps to boost vitamin D levels in your body, helps to protect your bones and reduces your risk of heart disease. It is recommended that you are exposed for 10-15 mins without sunscreen. After that time, it is advisable to put sunscreen on and keep out of the sun. Avoid the hottest parts of the day and try and stay indoors or cool (in the shade).”
This is advice that Helen from Bupa also suggests, saying that having the sun beating down on you isn’t the only way to enjoy the nice weather: “The older we are, the longer it takes us to adjust to heat, so it’s important to take extra care in the sun – also remember that you can make the most of being outside without being directly in the sun! My number one tip would be to always stay out of the heat between 11 am and 3 pm. Outside of these times don’t stay outside for long periods of time if it’s hot – limit time spent gardening to an hour before having a break in the shade.”
Another important component of staying well in hot conditions is hydrating. By drinking plenty of water, you can also help prevent many of the nasty health issues mentioned earlier. The importance of keeping hydrated was another point touched on by Helen, who explains: “Older people are more likely to suffer from dehydration so drink lots of cool water and avoid alcohol. Eating lots of fresh fruit will help too, as it has high water content.”
Dr Di Cuffa of Your Doctor also notes the importance of hydration, having the following to say about what can occur if we ignore what our body requires: “Remember to keep hydrated on hot and sunny days, as we lose more water by perspiration and can quickly dehydrate and suffer the effects of sun stroke. As we age, the body is less efficient at moderating our body’s core temperature so we are at greater risk of overheating. This can cause very serious symptoms for the elderly.”
Many like to enjoy the summer months by going abroad, and this is no different for older people who either travel alone or with family and friends. Cruise holidays are an incredibly popular way of doing this and, as such, it’s important to be aware of how you can look after yourself on hot cruise ships and during sunny shore excursions.
Danielle Fear of Cruise Miss, a cruise blog full of advice, news, and info on all things cruising, has some top tips to offer in this department: “You need to keep yourself hydrated, which is the most important thing. If you're going on long day tours, always pack a bottle of water and get some spare change in your pocket to buy another. Make sure you also have sun cream with you and take a hat! I've met some people that also take a headscarf, which is ideal for ladies if they don't want something heavy on their head. One thing I always pack is a cereal bar. They can be very handy if you get hungry before lunch or dinner, depending on your tour. They'll give you energy too. If you combine all these things, you should be fine. Finding shade as you go will also help, as the midday sun can be brutal.”
Emrys Thakkar, the founder of Cruise Hive – a wonderful resource for cruise news, tips, and deals –also has some very helpful advice for older people in order to stay healthy during a cruise. Emrys explains the importance of preparation, research, and not being afraid to ask for advice during your cruise:
“It really is important to be prepared well before the actual cruise, especially for older cruisers. With the hot and sunny climates of the Caribbean and Mediterranean, I would always suggest doing anything more active in the morning or evening, no matter if on the ship or in port. The best way to know how hot it can be is to ask a crew member, as they experience the hot climate every day and will no doubt have some suggestions on how to stay cool.
“It is also important to stay in the shade to stay cool, although the main areas are usually busy and finding a spot to relax can be difficult. Spend some extra time exploring early on and no doubt a nice shaded area out of the sun can be found. Cruise ships always have areas like this and don't forget to get a good view too!”
In terms of hydration and what to pack, Emrys advises: “Cruise lines often provide a limited amount of free bottled water so do take advantage of this and keep it with you when heading out on the hot deck or in port. When packing, make sure to think about staying protected from the sun. Get all the essentials before traveling because often on the ship things like sunscreen lotion can be on the expensive side. Things like sun hats and visors are usually cheap and can make a good souvenir during the voyage.
“As long as the planning and research is done it will be a great experience. Don't rush and stay steady, pack light and don't head out with a heavy bag. You could even get one of those mobile fans which spray water - I've used one of these myself and they come in very handy.”
Obtain travel insurance when abroad
Sticking to the realm of holidays and travel, it’s important that you are well covered in case of accident or emergency when enjoying yourself in another country, allowing you to get the treatment you need. Age UK travel insurance is tailored to the needs of older people and offers specialised coverage for over 50s.
Travel Health Pro, which was set up by the Department of Health in 2002 in order to protect the health of British travellers, is a wonderful resource for travel health information, and have offered the following advice on seeking medical help in foreign countries:
“All travellers should make sure they have comprehensive travel insurance, remembering to declare any health problems and medication. UK travellers to Europe can currently apply for a free European Health Insurance Card but this only gives access to basic emergency care. Travellers still need separate travel insurance.
“When needing to seek medical care abroad, travellers should, in the first instance, make contact with their insurance company; they will then be directed to appropriate local medical facilities. The International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers (IAMAT), a non-profit organisation, is an international network of English-speaking doctors.
“Older travellers with underlying medical problems should discuss their travel plans carefully with their specialist doctor to ensure that their trip is suitable and should ask their specialist to provide a letter detailing their medical history and treatment. Some specialists may be able to recommend a hospital or clinic at the traveller’s destination.”
Dress in appropriate clothing for the weather
Some things are out of your control when the hot weather rolls in but there is plenty that people can do to help themselves, or at least not make matters worse. One such instance is choosing to dress appropriately for the weather at hand. Avoid wearing black clothes (which conduct heat), wear lighter garments to help keep cool, and items that will protect your skin from the sun, helping to avoid burns. Don’t forget to wear hats and sunglasses when outside, adding an extra bit of protection to your eyes and also keeping the sun off your face. By kitting out your wardrobe with light-coloured and loose fitting clothes before the summer arrives, you can make sure that you are prepared and able to enjoy the nice weather.
Use high factor sun cream
Protecting one’s skin when out and about during sunny weather is of course vitally important, especially as we grow older. Making sure to pack sun cream when going to the beach, taking a walk with the dog, or just relaxing at home in the garden is important to remember. This is advice that Travel Health Pro make sure to highlight, along with the recommended SPF factor: “Sun protection is important for older travellers, as their skin and eyes may be more fragile, so applying high factor cream (SPF 30 or more) is strongly advised.”
Dr David Sheasby, a private GP at Concierge Medical in the Cotswolds, also adds that “cumulative damage to skin raises the risk of developing skin cancer” which, of course, only further emphasises the importance of protecting one’s skin, understanding when you’ve had too much exposure, and therefore, as Dr Sheasby notes, makes sure that “you can continue to enjoy the sun.”
Take an umbrella to the beach
The beach is, of course, a very popular destination when the sun comes out during the warmer months, and if you’re looking forward to enjoying the sand and sea, you should certainly feel able to do so. However, it’s always advisable to take certain precautions. Beyond bringing the usual hats, sunglasses, and sun cream, it’s a great idea to bring along a sun umbrella to plant next to your towel or chair – particularly if your favourite beach doesn’t provide them. This way, you can enjoy the ocean views and pleasant climate while protecting yourself from the sun and staying cool in the process.
Keep your body temperature cool
Keeping cool in the summer months is key to maintaining good health. Dr Sheasby of Concierge Medical advises that this can be achieved in a number of simple ways, such as taking tepid baths and showers, and using washcloths with cold water on your ankles, neck and wrists – all of which will help you to keep your body temperature cool.
After spending some time in the sun, the last thing you want is to come back to a hot and stuffy house, so investing in a portable air conditioning unit could very well be a good idea, especially if your place of residence has a tendency to get very hot. Paul Goldstein, the director of Climachill – a family-owned company specialising in air conditioning – spoke to us about the great benefits of portable air conditioners and how they can help older people in the summer months:
“Portable air conditioners are actually good for your health, so not only are there mobility and economical bonuses involved, but positive health implications too. Not many people think about how air conditioning actually affects the surrounding air, but it’s definitely worth considering as an added benefit. During intensely hot days in the summer, older people are usually the first to suffer. Having air conditioning blowing cool air around can dramatically lessen the effects of dehydration or heat exhaustion. Promoting comfortable surroundings is a huge health benefit that air conditioning provides.
“Having a portable air conditioner reduces the level of humidity as well. It is the humid, muggy air that we find particularly uncomfortable to deal with and this can lead to tiredness and irritability. The quality of the air is radically improved by having air conditioning. If you have an allergy, then rest assured that the air-conditioned room will reduce the number of irritant particles in the atmosphere, as the machine features a filter which continuously filters the room’s air. As well as this, you won’t have to open the windows as often in the summer, helping to combat pollen intake, as well as noise pollution.”
Staying fit is important and many enjoy the act of regular exercise during their day-to-day, and while this doesn’t need to stop entirely when the hot weather arrives, people do need to be more careful. Whether you enjoy long walks, swimming, tennis, or any other physical activity to stay fit, it’s important to be sensible, and this is just as important (if not more so) when travelling abroad to hotter countries, as Travel Health Pro point out: “Avoiding too much physical exertion, particularly during the hottest times of the day, also helps travellers keep cool.” Be smart, be sensible, and don’t put yourself at risk unnecessarily – exercising in the early morning and evening would be the best idea.
For some expert advice on the subject of exercise in hot temperatures, Kiss Fitness, a mobile personal training company that offers top health and fitness training at your door, is on hand: “Exercise for older populations is so important,” Kiss Fitness explain, “It keeps you moving, maintains strength, helps control body weight and benefits the mind. Taking time out to exercise does not have to be strenuous, you just need to move, be it a walk around the park or low impact activities such as bowls or dancing.
“The summer provides us with the daylight hours and the warm temperatures to be able to enjoy the outdoors. Getting out for a light walk is highly recommended - you’ll benefit from a top-up of vitamin D and feel the benefits of light and enjoyable exercise. You will need to take precautions, however, with hydration in particular. Here are some tips to maximise your summer walk:
- “Ensure you are hydrated before you commence any walk or exercise.
- Take water with you.
- Drink little and often.
“Your body can require up to an extra litre of water for every hour of exercise. This is on top of your daily requirement, which for most of us is about 2.5 litres.”
If you are wanting to get a little more active this summer but are worried about the stress it might put on your body, Kiss Fitness has some great advice in this department: “Personal training offers the expert instruction to maximise any workout, in particular for older age groups who might think you have to run, jog or jump up and down. However, this is not the case. An expert Kiss Fitness personal trainer can guide you in moving in ways that burn calories and build strength within your level of ability and without strenuous effort that might be uncomfortable. Older age groups need to focus on core stability, strengthening joints and increasing ranges of movement, as this will enhance quality of life and help prevent injuries.”
Gardening is a favourite pastime for many and, when the nice weather is here, the last thing many will want is to have to run and hide indoors and not be able to enjoy their home’s outdoor areas. So, if you’re looking forward to relaxing with a spot of gardening in the summer, just be measured in your approach, taking breaks and reasonable precautions in order to look after yourself. Thrive – a charity which uses gardening to bring about positive changes in the lives of those living with disabilities, ill health, and isolation – understand the great joy that gardening can bring to a person’s life. Providing guidance on how older people can keep enjoying their gardens in the summer while remaining cool and healthy, a representative of Thrive said:
“Gardens are often at their best during the spring and summer months. Once the temperature rises, there’s no need to put down your spade. Getting out in the garden, especially when it’s sunny, can be a great source of enjoyment. However, to avoid overheating it’s worth remembering:
- “Before you start gardening, plan ahead – if hot weather’s been forecast then don’t attempt too much.
- Protect yourself with sunscreen and a sun hat.
- Keep yourself hydrated and drink plenty of liquid throughout the day.
- When possible, try and stay in the shade – especially once it starts heating up.
- Keep moving – even while it’s hot, stretch regularly and swap around your activities.
- Avoid planting or watering in the heat of the day – stick to first thing or later in the day.
- If you’re using watering cans, don’t overfill them and risk straining yourself.
- Most importantly, enjoy gardening!”
Stay in touch with friends and family
With some of the dangers stated above being an unfortunate issue to deal with in high temperatures, some of which can be life-threatening, having good communication with friends and family is important in ensuring the safety of older people. If you are planning to spend a significant amount of time outdoors, whether gardening or heading out to town, make sure to let friends and family know beforehand. Inviting friends over regularly can be a good idea, as well as preparing a list of emergency phone numbers in an easy to access location. With these channels of communication open and perhaps arranging for a neighbour or family member to check in with you a couple of times a day, the summer will be ready to be enjoyed to the fullest!
Don’t forget to enjoy yourself
With all of the above being said, it’s important not to obsess over the subject and remember to actually enjoy the good weather while it lasts! After all, it’s worth reiterating that the sun offers so many benefits to us, as Dr Sheasby of Concierge Medical makes sure to note: “At this time of year older people should embrace the good weather and enjoy the health benefits some sunshine brings. Not only can UV light boost your mood but it is essential for the synthesis of vitamin D, often found at low levels in older people and known to contribute to ill health such as musculoskeletal pain and cognitive decline, as well as being associated with an increased risk of metabolic syndrome.”
This news article is from Handicare UK. Articles that appear on this website are for information purposes only.