Summer is here, and July is typically the hottest month of the year for the Mid-Atlantic. Enjoying the outdoors and soaking in the Vitamin D are a great relief from a dreary spring, but we need to be mindful of the extra stresses on our bodies associated with high temperatures. Keeping a careful eye on the amount of time we spend in these conditions, along with some simple planning, can make the summer months both enjoyable and safe.
Heat can be a very serious problem, especially in the elderly or those with chronic medical conditions like heart disease or diabetes. Every year around 400 people in the U.S. succumb to heat waves, and many don’t even realize they’re in danger. As we age and our circulation decreases, so does our ability to sweat effectively. Poor circulation could lead us to wear a sweater in the air conditioning, and not think about how hot we could get after going outside. Medications such as blood thinners and diuretics can also affect our natural thermostats and need to be considered when enjoying the sun.
To beat the heat this summer try these guidelines:
• Stay hydrated with water! Naturally sweet fruit juice can also be diluted for a refreshing drink, while caffeinated and alcoholic beverages will actually dehydrate.
• Wear cool clothes that are light colored and loose. A loosely-woven and wide-brimmed hat can help with direct sunlight, but it’s best to find shade when possible.
• Stay indoors during the hottest hours, usually between 10am and 6pm. If you don’t have air conditioning at home, leave windows cracked with drapes closed. A few well-placed fans can be used to help circulate air.
• Find activities that are both fun and keep you cool. Many pools and community centers also have air conditioned facilities with programs designed specifically for seniors.
• Stock up on fruit with high water content such as watermelon and make fruit juice into Popsicles.
Heat exhaustion is an urgent medical condition, and knowing the warning signs may allow you to help somebody in need and prevent full heatstroke. Symptoms include but aren’t limited to fatigue, confusion, rapid pulse, dizziness and headaches. If somebody is suffering these symptoms, the first step is to get the person out of the heat and re-hydrated with plenty of cool water. Have the person remove any tight-fitting clothing and take a lukewarm shower or bath. If this isn’t available damp towels can be used to speed evaporation from the skin and will lower the person’s temperature. If conditions don’t improve or the person becomes confused or unconscious, call 911 immediately for emergency assistance.
This summer, keep an eye on family and neighbors who might need help adjusting to the high temperatures. A friendly reminder of “cool foods for the summer” posted on the refrigerator can encourage fun activities while staying indoors. So enjoy the warm weather, drink plenty of water, and don’t forget the sunscreen!