While the summer is a great time to plan outdoor activities, stretch our legs, and shake off any remaining winter blahs that might still be weighing us down, the truth is that enjoying the sunshine can quickly turn from a fun time to a dangerous time. Sunlight, higher temperatures, and physical exertion can take their toll on the youngest and fittest people, and older adults are particularly susceptible to heat emergencies and dehydration. The good news, however, is that with a little bit of preparation and preventative steps, you can make sure your days never turn sour and you can let the good times roll all summer long.
Statistics show that of the many weather related emergencies it’s possible to experience individually, extreme heat is the deadliest. This is especially true for older adults. In March of 2022, the American College of Cardiology reported that extreme heat events are rising across the United States, which brings about a corresponding rise in heat emergency related deaths. Heat can cause increased strain on the heart, which can trigger disastrous events such as heart attacks. Additionally, some risk factors for heart disease, such as diabetes, as well as medications like diuretics and beta blockers, can negatively affect a person’s ability to regulate their body temperature and make managing extreme heat that much more difficult.
Having your home’s cooling system inspected and serviced before the start of summer is a great idea as well. And if your home is older and without central air, installing a window or ductless unit in at least one room will help you stay comfortable indoors. Heat buildup can be lessened on very warm days by opening windows in the night and closing them as the morning begins to heat up. Heavy curtains can block solar radiation and fans can circulate air as well.
During extremely hot days, homes and rooms with inadequate ventilation and no air conditioning can potentially reach dangerous temperatures. Summer conditions can also sometimes cause power outages, which can knock out even the most state of the art HVAC system. In the event that your home is without AC for whatever reason, it’s important to form a backup plan. Many cities and counties operate cooling centers during the summer months, places that are free to attend with working AC. Places like public libraries, shopping malls, and movie theaters will all be air conditioned to give you a respite from the heat away from home. If transportation is an issue, try to work something out with friends or family well before it’s an urgent issue, as well as look into the public transit system and any ride options offered specifically for seniors.
The best thing you can do in hotter weather is make sure you’re staying adequately hydrated. On hot days, our bodies lose moisture faster through sweating and other means, so by drinking plenty of water and other hydrating fluids, even if you don’t specifically feel thirsty you can protect yourself. Caffeinated beverages and alcohol have a diuretic effect which makes you shed water through your body faster, making them bad choices for outdoor activities.