By Dr. David Lo, Internal Medicine, Western Connecticut Medical Group Ridgefield Primary Care
Summer is a great time to get active and enjoy the outdoors. However, for adults age 65 or older, summertime weather can also pose health challenges. As the days get hotter, seniors may become frequently dehydrated, have trouble getting their daily exercise, or feel stuck indoors to avoid the heat. Combined with the added risks related to COVID-19, it’s especially important for seniors to monitor their health and make summertime safety a priority.
Here are the top five things adults age 65 or older need to know to have a safe and healthy summer.
1: Pay Attention to COVID-19 Risks
People age 65 or older are at an increased risk of experiencing serious complications related to COVID-19 due to their age and common underlying conditions like diabetes and heart disease. That’s why it’s especially important for seniors to consider the risks of COVID-19 infection before participating in summer activities. To decide which activities are appropriate, seniors should consider their comfort level, their level of risk due to age or medical conditions, and the risk of catching COVID-19 in their community.
In general, for someone at high risk of COVID-19 complications, it may a good idea to avoid activities that involve a crowd, such as a large family celebration, amusement park, or movie theater. Instead, consider lower-risk activities such as small, outdoor family events; wear a face covering and practice social distancing.
2: Get Exercise
Exercise is important all year round and for people of all ages. Thirty minutes of regular exercise each day can help seniors strengthen their core and reduce the risk of falls or injury. Exercise is also good for their heart and may help to boost the immune system.
Summer is a great time to explore new types of exercise. For example, aqua aerobics (aerobic exercise in a shallow swimming pool) is a fantastic summertime activity. The resistance from the water strengthens muscles. Since it’s low impact and the water helps to stabilize the body, it’s a safe and effective exercise, especially for people with osteoporosis who are at greater risk of fractured bones because of a fall. Aqua aerobics is considered a low risk activity because there’s currently no evidence that COVID-19 spreads through water. Just make sure to avoid large crowds of people and practice proper social distancing.
Sometimes it might be too hot to walk outside safely. To maintain a daily walking routine, seniors may want to find an indoor, air-conditioned (AC) location, like an indoor track or a mall where they can remain six feet from non-household members.
3: Stay Cool, Stay Hydrated
Summer heat can be dangerous for everyone, but seniors are particularly vulnerable to dehydration, which can lead to heat stroke. Older adults may have more difficulty regulating their internal temperature or producing the sweat they need to cool down. As people age, it’s common for the senses to be dulled, so they may not feel thirsty. Further, medications seniors take for common health conditions like high blood pressure may make them prone to dehydration.
The increased risk of dehydration means it’s important for seniors to stay cool and hydrated. They can speak with their healthcare clinician about the ideal amount of water they should drink each day, and ask if changes to their medications are necessary to help keep them hydrated. Also, it’s important to have a reliable AC system at home, or access to a safe place with AC where they can go during the day.
Seniors should be especially wary if they experience blurry vision, dizziness, or if friends or family members tell them that they don’t look well. They may be experiencing the early stages of heat stroke. If these symptoms occur, seniors should go to a cool place with AC, drink plenty of cool (but not ice cold) water or a sports drink (to boost electrolyte levels), and seek emergency medical attention.
4: Manage Medications
Managing medications can be tricky at the best of times, but summer weather can make it even harder. The heat can damage medications and make them less effective or harmful to take. For example, pills left in hot and humid places can congeal together, become misshapen, or have a different smell or feel to them. If seniors notice any of these changes to their pills, they should ask their pharmacist or healthcare clinician if the medication is still okay to take.
To avoid heat damage to medications, keep them in dry, room-temperature conditions that are no hotter than 60 to 70 degrees. A great place for medications is inside a bedroom nightstand.
5: Enjoy Being Outside
Spending 30 minutes a day outside isn’t just relaxing, it’s also healthy. The summer sun is great for getting Vitamin D, which is critical for keeping bones strong. I encourage seniors to find excuses to spend time outside this summer — walk the dog, go on a picnic, tour the neighborhood with a small group of loved ones. However, be sure to engage in outdoor activities safely by following all social distancing and public health recommendations, such as washing hands thoroughly after returning home.
Even though the sun provides Vitamin D, it can cause harmful effects such as sunburn or eye damage.
Seniors may be especially vulnerable to the sun’s rays because of thinner skin. Seniors can protect their skin by applying sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 about 30 minutes before exposure to the sun, and then reapplying it according to the instructions. Seniors should wear protective clothing like hats and lightweight cotton shirts and pants to protect their skin from the sun. They should also wear sunglasses with UV400 protection lenses, especially if they have eye conditions like cataracts or macular degeneration.
Other warm weather hazards include outdoor construction and cracks in the concrete from winter weather. These may be tripping hazards. Wear stabilizing shoes like sneakers and avoid sandals. Also be careful of insect bites — especially tick bites. Older adults are not immune to contracting tick-borne illnesses such as Lyme disease, so check for ticks every night.
The bottom line: Although this summer may be a little different due to the COVID-19 pandemic, by taking special precautions and monitoring COVID-19 risks, older adults can have an active, healthy, and safe summer.
Did you know that Nuvance Health offers Virtual Visits for primary and specialty care so our patients can have a remote consultation with healthcare clinicians from the comfort of their home? For more information, to schedule an appointment, or to find a healthcare clinician, visit nuvancehealth.org/virtualvisits.
Amy Forni, Manager, Public Relations