As summer gets into full gear, you’re probably eager to start getting out and about. Restrictions are lifting, and you may be able to resume some of your normal summertime activities. While you should still be careful to mask up and social distance, the real danger to seniors can be the heat, which can lead to fainting and falls.
How your body handles heat as you age
As you age, your body’s ability to regulate temperature starts to decrease. Age-related illnesses such as heart disease or COPD can also be a factor, as can side effects from medications. Many older people also don’t realize that they don’t have the same thirst reactions as before, which can lead to quicker dehydration.
If you don’t get out of the heat once your body starts to be affected, you can end up with heat exhaustion. Loss of salt and fluid can cause muscle cramps, nausea, headaches, and vomiting. If you don’t get treated quickly, you can end up with blurred vision, a rapid, weak heartbeat, fatigue, weakness, and dizziness.
The final stage of heat exhaustion is heat stroke, which can mean extreme dizziness and disorientation, staggering, and loss of consciousness. At any stage between mere dehydration and full blown heat stroke, seniors are at risk for a fall.
Why falls are so dangerous for seniors
Every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in an ER for a fall. More than 95% of hip fractures are caused by a fall. Brittle bones and weakened joints mean that your knees, ankles, hips, elbows, wrists and shoulders are all vulnerable to injury from a fall. Falls have a psychological cost as well.
How can you help prevent falling in the summer? Staying hydrated and cool are key to avoiding dizziness or loss of balance or consciousness due to heat.
- Plan ahead
If your local forecast says it’s going to be scorching, make plans to be in a cool space for the heat of the day.
- Cool your home
If A/C is an option for you, use it (check local assistance routes if you’re having a hard time affording it). Cover up windows that get direct sunlight during the daytime, and use fans to move air around. Open windows at night to provide more circulation.
- Check your wardrobe
Skip your dark, thicker clothing items during summer months. Choose loose woven, breathable cotton or linen fabrics and light colors.
- Hydrate constantly
Water is great for you, and so are sports drinks and other options that help replace salt. Juice is good, too. Limit diuretic drinks that contain caffeine and alcohol.
- Stay out of the sun
Peak heat hours are between 10am and 3pm. If you have to be outside, wear sunglasses, a wide brimmed hat, and plenty of sunscreen. Take a water bottle with you and rest in any shade you can find.
- Take it easy.
If you love to exercise outside, do it in the very early morning or late evening. Strenuous exertion can put your body in crisis mode, and you’ll sweat out much needed fluids and salt.
By staying cool and hydrated, you can help prevent yourself from falling and causing a serious injury. If you’re worried about a recent fall and pain in your hip or elsewhere, contact Dr. Strasburger for a consultation.