Summer in the South is a time for fun — ice cream cones on the front porch, picnics with the family, walks in the park, gardens full of green beans and zinnias. It’s great to enjoy those days where you can get outside and let the sun warm your face without having to worry about bundling up in a coat. But as warm and welcome as the sun can be those first few days of summer, it can be brutal during the months of July and August. Heat and humidity are trademarks of life in the South, and together they can make daily activities a struggle, especially for the elderly.
How the Heat Affects the Elderly
If you watch the weather on the local news, you’ve probably seen the warnings for high ozone days, or even just really hot days, when they report it’s more dangerous outside for young children and the elderly. High temperatures, especially when combined with high humidity, can affect older adults more quickly than others. This happens for two reasons:
1. As we age our bodies don’t sweat as much. Sweat glands shrink as you age, and sweating is one of the body’s ways of natural temperature regulation. Therefore, without sweating to help regulate your temperature, you need to be more aware of your surroundings and be careful not to over-exert yourself in high heat.
2. Older bodies store fat differently. When you’re young, you have a nice layer of subcutaneous fat under your skin all over your body. As you age, that fat diminishes, even though you might not be losing weight. The fat storage shifts to the stomach area, as visceral fat. Just like the sweat glands are important in body temperature regulation, so is fat, and without that layer covering your body, you have a diminished natural temperature regulator to rely on.
People with chronic conditions such as heart disease, liver and kidney disease or diabetes are also at higher risk of complications from heat. Being aware of the risk factors can help you better prepare for the sweltering heat of summer.
Tips to Stay Cool
Since the body can’t regulate it’s own temperature as well as you age, it’s important to take steps yourself. Here are a few things to do to stay cool during the hottest days of the summer.
· Drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated is one of the best ways to regulate your body temperature, and keeping fluids coursing through your body helps ensure the electrolytes and nutrients you need to keep your heart breathing and your lungs going are getting where they need to be. Not only should you drink water with every meal, it’s also smart to keep a water bottle with you to sip throughout the day.
· Enjoy cool snacks. Replace your chips and cookies with snacks that keep you cool, like popsicles and frozen grapes.
· Wear loose-fitting, light-colored clothes. Anyone who has grown up in the South knows how to dress during the summer, and it’s not in long sleeves and pantyhose. Dress for comfort, with breathable fabrics such as cotton and linens.
· Spend time in the air conditioning. Try to plan your outdoor activities during the early morning or evening hours, so that you can be inside during the hottest part of the day. If your daily routine includes walking, you could consider skipping the park and walking in an indoor mall. Movie theaters and libraries are great places to escape the heat for a few hours during the summer. If you don’t have air conditioning at home, you might qualify for assistance to help purchase a window air conditioner through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).
Heat waves can be just as dangerous as brutal cold snaps for vulnerable populations. Be sure to to check in on your loved ones regularly during these hot summer months.
Questions? For more information and to learn more about the services we provide, please call 336-724-1197.