Summer is back, in all its glory.
For some it also means an onslaught of heat-related issues, especially for seniors. Lethargy, dehydration, poorer sleeping patterns — just to name a few.
We tend to take our body’s ability to regulate itself during hot days for granted, and forget that as we age, we are at a greater risk of being affected by the extreme heat and sun.
Dehydration can affect anyone, young or old.
It occurs when the body loses more water than it takes in. Dehydration can be mild and easily treated if caught early or very severe resulting in life-threatening conditions including hospitalization. Not to mention putting a crimp in your summer adventures!
As we age, our sweat glands, which help cool the body, become less efficient.
Blood vessels carry less blood to the skin and the skin itself goes through natural normal age-related changes that may slow the rate of heat release or the ability to “cool oneself down.”
Normal aging causes older adults to respond slower to heat and leads to higher body temperatures and slower sweat productions.
For some, chronic illnesses and medications change the ability of the body to regulate temperature. This results in a higher risk of dehydration and sun and/or heat stroke.
What most people feel when they are dehydrated is fatigue. We tend to urinate less (and darker in colour) and also notice a dry mouth/sticky tongue syndrome.
Other physical signs can include muscle weakness and/or cramping, decrease in tears, sunken eyes and poor skin elasticity (in a hydrated person, when pulling up the skin on the back of your hand and releasing, it will return to its normal state instantly).
In severe cases of dehydration, your aging loved may show signs of confusion, which if out of blue, is a cause for concern. Other signs include headaches, dizziness and changes in heart rate and blood pressure.
A few tips to stay hydrated:
• Drink water! Stay well-hydrated by drinking at least eight eight-ounce glasses of liquid every day, especially water, juices, milk, club soda and decaffeinated beverages
• Eat watermelon and other water-based foods such as soups, ice cream and smoothies
• Limit caffeinated and alcoholic beverages, which are diuretics and increase fluid needs.
• Wear sunglasses at all times when outdoors (NOT just at the beach) to help protect eyes from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays.
• Stay indoors during extremely hot temperatures.
• Wear a hat and apply sunscreen of at least 30 SPF to protect skin from overexposure to the sun’s damaging rays.
• Know the signs of heat stroke and seek immediate treatment for this medical emergency. Signs include a red flushed face, high body temperature (106 F+), headache, little or no sweat and rapid pulse.
• If symptoms of dehydration continue after replenishing fluid loss, consider going to your family physician.
Wendy Johnstone is a gerontologist and is the founder of Keystone Eldercare Solutions. Her column runs in the Comox Valley Record every second Thursday.