While the arrival of spring and the approach of summer is welcome news for Santa Monica residents tired of winter, the change of seasons does require some degree of preparation for seniors and their caregivers.
The team at Accredited Home Care encourages everyone to get outside and soak up the California sunshine or even find a good spot in the house to sit and enjoy some sunlight coming through the window. But be careful!
This ‘all-natural’ heat source can be refreshing if you’ve become accustomed to cooler temperatures, but temperatures in our region can quickly jump during the day as we move closer to summer. Heat can soon rise to dangerous levels if you’re outside too long, and even faster if you over-exert yourself.
Even low-impact physical activities like reading, gardening or even sitting in the sunlight can lead to possible health complications like heat stroke. And while walking is definitely recommended to aid one’s endurance and flexibility, it’s important to stay hydrated or exercise in a cool place if possible, especially indoors.
How to stay cool
The Centers for Disease Control says everyone is susceptible to health problems from heat, but people age 65 and over are at higher risk.
The CDC uses the term ‘heat stress’ to describe the various problems that can result from prolonged heat. Factors can include:
- Medications. Some prescription medicines can alter how well we regulate temperature or sweat. Others may be sensitive to sunlight, and either may not work or work differently. Water pills can make it easier to dehydrate faster, and tranquilizers can make it difficult to think clearly. Mixing alcohol with medication may also make someone get warmer faster than medicine alone.
- Medical conditions. Some past health problems may affect how our bodies respond to heat and circulate blood, such as obesity, heart disease or high blood pressure. Some forms of dementia also can keep someone from seeking relief.
- Physical changes. Our skin and other parts of our body may not adjust as quickly to rapid changes in temperature as someone younger. Some seniors may not live where there is adequate air conditioning or don’t want to turn theirs on to save money or energy. But avoiding this can also be dangerous on high-temperature days.
The UC Davis Health System reports some seniors have a difficult time noticing changes in the temperature so they’re unable to take steps to hydrate themselves adequately. Worse, some advanced heat conditions such as heat stroke can cause confusion and make it even more difficult to seek help or take preventative measures.
How you can help
If you’re a family member or a caregiver, there are a variety of things to do to make sure any seniors you know are coping well with the heat.
- Check in regularly, whether in person or over the phone. If warmer weather is predicted, make sure they’re aware of this and prepared to take precautions. Or if you check in with someone and they’re appearing overheated, consider ways to get them to cooler surroundings, whether it’s taking them somewhere or calling for medical assistance if they appear nauseous, unnaturally sweaty, fatigued or respond poorly.
- Keep it dim. Thicker curtains, window shades, blinds or window tinting can block out sun coming into the house. In a pinch, cardboard covered with aluminum foil placed in a window facing outward can help reflect sunlight.
- Make sure any fans or air conditioning is working. Someone may try to get by without repair, worrying it can be expensive or unnecessary. But being without a source of cool air can be dangerous especially during heat waves. If someone is renting, the owner may pay for repairs, the superintendent can arrange something or even a local community charity/resource can provide energy assistance.
- Portable fans can help move air around and cool things down especially in common areas like bedrooms or living rooms.
Seniors may also consider finding other places to visit during the heat of the day if their home or apartment is too warm, like a community center, mall, pool or a friend’s house. Even outdoors in the shade with a light breeze can be cooler than a warm home, although this location may need to be adjusted through the day. A nearby café or movie theater may offer cool conditions for a regular customer, provided you make a purchase.
Caregivers can also encourage them to take steps to cool themselves down, such as cool washcloths, or ice packs, especially on the neck and head.
Making sure you stay hydrated is vital. This means water or juices when possible, because caffeinated or alcoholic products may affect your rate of cooling.
Home health care options
Santa Monica residents are encouraged to take steps to help beat the heat.
In honor of National Heat Awareness Day, which takes place the last Friday of May, people are encouraged to come up with plans to stay cool when possible.
The team at Accredited Home Care can offer a variety of suggestions and strategies as well.