100+ senior safety tips for summer
- staying cool
- keeping hydrated
- going outside in the heat
- knowing signs of heat exhaustion
- everyday safety for the elderly
How to keep the house cool ?
Is the air conditioning working ?
Before the real heat of summer comes, you want to make sure your air conditioning is working.
You really don’t want your air conditioning breaking down in a heatwave !
- Make sure your parents have had their air conditioning checked, and that all the wiring and plugs are in good condition
- if you don’t have air conditioning, use fans – I lived in the South of France for a while, and friends would put ice cubes in bowls in front of electric fans, and it really worked very well
- if fans aren’t enough then your loved ones can go out to public places such as shopping malls, theaters and cinemas, which all have air conditioning
- in the Mediterranean most people open their windows at night, to let the cool air in, and then keep everything shut in the daytime, keeping the heat out
- keeping curtains drawn and windows closed in the daytime will keep your interior cooler
Keep drinking water
In the summer, our elderly parents will need to keep hydrated, which simply means drinking lots of water.
- the elderly should not wait to be thirsty
- it’s good to have a drinking schedule in hot weather
- have a bottle of fresh water which is marked with levels showing what has to be drunk by what time – it’s the easiest way to get it done
- cut back on the coffee and tea, as they actually cause the body to dehydrate
- eat foods which contain lots of water – watermelons, peaches, strawberries and pineapples are full of water
- nobody, elderly or not, should drink alcohol in hot weather, as it has a far faster effect on the system as you are sweating out the water content
- some medicines cause the body to dehydrate more than usual – anti-depressants and blood pressure medicines can do this – I have no experience with this, but if your parent is taking these types of drugs, they may want to find out from their treating doctors, if they need to drink more water or take other precautions in hot weather
Check the forecast
- try to get your parents to check the weather forecast as the elderly are easily affected by the heat
- if you don’t think your parents are checking the forecast, or they will forget to, then give them a call and just tell them if it’s going to be a very hot day etc. – find out what they have planned
- take the opportunity to make sure they take their sunscreen, hats and glasses
Dress for the conditions
If your parents have checked the forecast, try to get them to dress appropriately –
- light colored clothes will reflect the heat, keeping you cooler
- black will absorb the heat, getting rather more uncomfortable
- in the heat, clothing needs to be light and loose fitting
- your loved ones should also wear hats and good sunglasses
You should always check the side effects of any medications that your parents may be taking. I am not a doctor, so I have taken the following information directly from Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical school –
“10 types of medications that should keep you in the shade this summer, Drugs that magnify the sunlight’s harmful effects require extra precautions.”
To summarize, (and again I am not a doctor so do check the article if your parents could be taking of these medications) certain drugs can make people more sensitive to the sun.
Some drugs contain compounds which when exposed to the sun’s radiation can –
- cell membrane damage
- cause blistering sunburn
- damage DNA
- trigger an allergic reaction to sun exposure – a whole body rash
Other drugs make it difficult to withstand the heat and can –
- constrict blood vessels which inhibits cooling by sweating
- some affect the brain’s ability to regulate body temperature
Here are some medication types which are can increase a person’s sensitivity to the sun.
Do go to the Harvard article and check the exact drugs if you think your parents are taking these medications – the article contains more developed information with drug brand names and chemical names as well.
So you need to beware of –
- cancer drugs
- decongestants and older antihistamines
- diabetes medications
- cardiovascular medications
- drugs for skin conditions
- pain relievers
- psychiatric drugs
You can always check with your pharmacist for your parents.
Know the warning signs of heat related health issues
According to WebMD, there are two types of heat exhaustion –
Water depletion, the signs of which include –
- excessive thirst
- loss of consciousness
Salt depletion, the signs of which include –
- nausea and vomiting
- muscle cramps
WebMD says that, although heat exhaustion is not as extreme as heat stroke it can, without proper intervention, progress to heat stroke, which can be fatal.
You can read the complete text here on WebMD.
For our elderly parents it can be all the more serious, as their metabolisms can’t handle over-heating in the same efficient way as when they were younger, so they need to know the signs.
Don’t stay in the sun for any length of time
- try to make your parents avoid going out in the midday sun
- always wear a hat in the sun
- wear sunglasses in the sun – obviously the elderly with eye conditions should have the appropriate eye wear when they go out
- it’s coolest in the sun and outdoors in general before 11am and after 5pm, so these are the best times for the elderly to be exposed if they feel they have to be
- it’s a bad idea for the elderly to work in the sun, i.e. gardening for any length of time
- if your loved one has to, get them to take breaks
- if your parents do go out, it is not good to go from a very cold air-conditioned environment into the midday heat as it can cause problems like dizziness and falls
- if your parents, like my mom, have any macular degeneration, you must be careful in summer going from indoor lighting to bright sunshine, as the sudden change can also cause dizziness
- for the above reason it is good to make sure that your parents have grab bars, or rails, which they can hold onto, at their front and back doors where they step out, so if they get dizzy they do have something to hold on to
- the elderly should use a good level of protection – SPF 30 or higher
- if your parents have skin medications do check if they should be in the sun, and if so, which sunscreen they can use
- don’t forget as we age our skin gets thinner, and it will be more easily burn’t
- re-apply after a few hours
- if a person goes into the water with a sunscreen on, they need to re-apply it straight away afterwards as it does wash off
Going out in the car
If your parents are still driving, you may want to make sure that they are doing a couple of things.
Firstly, you need to make sure that your parent’s car is roadworthy.
Secondly, are your parents still driving well, or are they a danger to others and to themselves – this is a difficult one, but if you don’t think they should be driving, then you have to have that conversation.
If your loved one is still able to drive well, then you want to do a couple of things –
- make sure your parents have had the servicing done, and the car is in good shape
- is the radiator doing well
- is the air conditioning working
- does your parent have a screen for the windshield to reflect sunlight and heat from off the car when it is parked ?
- if your parent doesn’t have this, and they are elderly, they could quickly find themselves overwhelmed from the heat in the car
- does your parent have the right glasses for driving in summer ?
- as well as the usual breakdown bag, does your loved one have fresh cold water in the car on each trip ?
Should an elderly person have any particular changes to their diet in the summer ?
Because of the heat in the summer, seniors tend to eat less, but you should take care that your parents are getting all the nutrients they need.
- make sure your parent’s fridge is working well, so food doesn’t go off in the heat
- eat lean meats, as you can eat more of them as they are lighter – chicken and fish
- eat varied salads, as they are fresh and contain more nutrients than cooked food
- if your parents are eating a lot of salads try to get them to just use olive oil, lemon juice and vinegar for the dressings, as they are much better for them than creamier dressings, and much easier to digest than saturated fats in the creamy salad dressings
- grilled food is lighter as the fat drains off and is therefore easier to digest
- eat evening meals earlier to make digestion easier
- eat more foods containing water – watermelon, strawberries, peaches
- drink less tea and coffee as these will make your body dehydrate
What weekly safety checks should I be doing for my elderly parents ?
In addition to specific summer safety checks, you need to make regular safety checks in and around the house to keep the risk of falls and other accidents to a minimum.
Here’s a list of the basic checks you need to do each week –
- bright lighting throughout the home, so your parents can see where they are going
- get automatic lighting between your parent’s bedroom and their bathroom, so it just goes on as they go by
- grab bars or rails between bedroom to bathroom, so your parents have something to help with their balance at night
- an alarm or medical alert button, or mobile phone for the bathroom, in case your parent slips
- if you make the floor clear in all rooms, there is much less chance of a fall – so clear all clutter from stairs and hallways
- remove rugs and mats which have curled up edges
- put grabbers close to where your parent sits, or works, so they pick things up without stretching
- don’t have furniture and other objects in front of windows and curtains – make access easy
- like the doors, make sure that windows open without forcing and losing balance
- clear up cables lying around on the floor and sticking out
- make sure that the path through the center of each room is without obstacles
- a doorbell with intercoms placed where your parent sits in each room is a very good idea
- the stairs make sure they are in perfect condition, and no tears if there is carpet, and that all edges are tacked down
- on the stairs you should have handrails, and a gate at the top for nighttime
- floors should have carpet wherever possible to avoids slips and cushion falls a little
- if your loved one has a basement, do they need a stair rail ?
- check that all the switches and sockets are at the right height for your loved one to avoid accidents from over reaching and falling ?
- check the condition of the sockets, switches and frequently used appliances like the vacuum cleaner or blender
- make sure the entrances are well lit
- if your parent uses a mobility aid like a walker, is there enough room for them at the entrances of the house ?
- when there they step up into the house do they have a grab bar to hold onto, and similarly, is there something to hold onto as they step out ?
- do your parents require railings on outside paths to give them support ?
- do your parents require any railings on porches if they have them ?
- do you need to have any shut off devices on the stove in the kitchen ?
- have your parents got anti-scalding and over-flow devices installed for the water in the kitchen and bathroom ?
- are all the cupboards etc. still at a good height around the house for your parents – you want to avoid them stretching and losing their balance
I hope this helps.
Good luck !
I’m Gareth, the author and owner of Looking After Mom and Dad.com
I have been a caregiver for over 10 yrs and share all my tips here.