Mississippi heat equals summertime precautions for older adults

After being stuck indoors for months due to frigid temperatures and COVID restrictions ... it’s finally summer!

That means it’s time to get outdoors and enjoy the sun, warmth, and activities that are made for this time of year. These things are just as important to the older adult in your life as it is to you. It may take some extra precautions and planning, but all of it is very worthwhile.

Summertime activities for seniors have more health advantages that are beneficial to their emotional and health well-being. Increased sunlight lets them absorb more vitamin D, which is essential for brain, bone, muscle, and possibly cognitive function. The sun is considered by many to put a smile on your face and lift your spirits. In addition, the increased socialization that often occurs is sure to be mentally uplifting as well. With benefits like these, there’s no reason not to take advantage of everything summer has to offer! However, with these same benefits come precautionary measures that must be taken to enjoy a healthy and safe Summer.

As we age, our ability to adequately respond to summer heat can become a serious problem. Older adults are at significantly increased risk of heat-related illnesses, known collectively as hyperthermia, during the summer months. Hyperthermia can include heat stroke, heat edema (swelling in your ankles and feet when you get hot), heat syncope (sudden dizziness after exercising in the heat), heat cramps, and heat exhaustion. Experts at the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health, say knowing which health-related factors may increase risk could save a life. Also, lifestyle factors can increase risk, including extremely hot living quarters, lack of transportation, overdressing, visiting overcrowded places, and not understanding how to respond to weather conditions.

Older adults, particularly those at special risk, should stay indoors on particularly hot and humid days. To stay cool, drink plenty of fluids and wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothes in natural fabrics. People without fans or air conditioners should keep their homes as cool as possible or go someplace cool. Senior centers, religious groups, and social service organizations in many communities provide cooling centers when the temperatures rise. Or, visit public air-conditioned places such as shopping malls, movie theaters, or libraries.

If you’ll be enjoying outdoor activities with an older adult this year, be sure to take the following precautions:

• Plan outside activities during cooler hours either early morning prior to 10 p.m. or after 4 p.m. because during those hours it is generally the warmest.

• Have your loved one drink plenty of fluids or as much as is recommended by their doctor. Therefore, drink plenty of water!

• Replace any lost electrolytes and potassium. Electrolytes can be found in sports drinks, and many fruits and vegetables contain potassium.

Preparation is key to maintaining a healthy balance of fun and sun. Keep your loved one safe this summer by learning how to prevent heat strokes, heat exhaustion, and sunburns.

Source: National Institute on Aging

• Kimberly Gowdy is an FCS Agent III for the Mississippi State University-Extension Service, Lauderdale County.

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