Aging in Place: Planning Ahead for the Summer Season

Chirping birds, budding trees, and plants pushing through the ground: yes, spring is in the air, which means summer isn’t far behind.

We’re not trying to rush the seasons here — just offering a reminder. Now is the time to plan ahead and prepare for those “dog days,” because as fun as summer can be, there are special risks to consider, issues (like heat stroke, bee stings, and dehydration) that surface regularly in June, July, and August. Make this summer safer and more enjoyable with these tips…

Here comes the sun: Extensive and unprotected sun exposure is not good for anyone, but the danger to seniors and children is far greater. Staying out in the heat too long, say the health experts at MedlinePlus, can cause heatstroke (a life-threatening illness), heat exhaustion, heat cramps, or heat rash. Prevent a trip to the ER by drinking plenty of water and fluids that replenish salt and minerals; skip alcoholic or caffeinated drinks as these will dehydrate you. Cut down on the time you spend in the sun, but if you must soak up its warmth, protect your skin with sunblock, an umbrella, hat, or better yet, all three.

Also, many medications don’t mingle well with sun exposure. Read the warning labels carefully and avoid going outside for extended periods of time if the risks are too great. If you have to be outside, be sure to dress appropriately, use sunscreen, and stay fully hydrated. Ask your doctor what he/she recommends in terms of sun exposure (i.e. avoid it entirely or take certain precautions first).

Pet owners: don’t leave your furry friend in the car, even for just a quick errand. Even with the windows down, the temperature inside a parked car on a sunny (or hazy), the warm day can reach the boiling point, causing serious damage or death to your beloved animal. Be sensitive to your pet’s heat tolerance at home too. It’s OK if Fido enjoys catching some rays in the backyard as long as there are shaded areas where he can get relief from the heat. Make sure there is always fresh, cool water for your pet to drink. Take shorter walks in the summertime, or take them earlier or later in the day, before the sun is at its strongest.

Heat is hazardous no matter where you are. Yes, it’s important to stay protected when you’re outside or traveling in the car, but keeping cool inside the house is equally important. This Summer Safety Guide for Seniors (from the New York Chapter of the Red Cross) offers several great tips for beating the heat all summer long. First, limit strenuous physical activity, particularly during the sun’s peak hours (10 am to 4 pm). If you must be active or need to exercise, get up early, says the article: the coolest part of the day is between 4 and 7 am.

If your senior family member lives in an older home and doesn’t have central air or window units — or can’t afford the subsequent electric bills — there are a few cost-effective tricks for staying cool in the summer heat. First, break up the day by heading out to an air-conditioned restaurant, mall, movie theater, library, or local senior center. A cool bath or shower, or a damp cool washcloth (with ice cubes tucked inside) dabbed on the face, wrists, and back of the neck may offer a welcome reprieve, says the Red Cross. (Note: the installation of grab bars in the bathroom may be a wise idea if you are concerned about a senior loved one who may take a cool shower during the day when you, the caregiver, are away.)

Another way to beat the heat: close the curtains on windows that get a lot of sunlight and hang out in the coolest part of the house (the basement feels great in the summer, doesn’t it?). Portable, hand-held fans/misters and strategically-placed box and standing fans also help keep the air moving.

Man vs. the machine: In the winter, you’re checking furnaces, space heaters, fireplaces, and the like. In the summer, check your fans and cooling systems (whether you have central air or window units). Clean out dusty, dirty filters; examine circuits, plug-ins, and power sources, and if you have AC in your car, check your coolant levels.

Have an auto lift, vertical platform lift, or some other type of outdoor mobility equipment? Take time to check all the moving parts and make sure things are working properly. Check first with the company that installed the lift: they may provide professionals who can visit your home to service the equipment, or their team can offer guidance over the phone regarding how to perform a basic check.

You can also call our 101 Mobility® team at (888) 258-0652 for assistance.

Strong summer storms can cause power outages, flash floods, fires, and other dangerous situations, particularly for seniors who live alone and in a rural area, away from neighbors or family. Disaster preparedness is key.

This document from the CDC offers disaster planning tips for families of older adults. Besides having a basic emergency supply kit, the CDC recommends that seniors have “a personalized emergency plan listing where they can go in an emergency, what they should bring with them (such as medications, eyeglasses, hearing aids and extra batteries, oxygen, or assistive technologies), how they will get there, and who they should call for help.” Should evacuation be necessary, special provisions must be made to transport equipment for those family members who rely on mobility, communication, or assistive device, such as a power scooter or walker (or a service animal). A list of medications, emergency information, doctors’ and pharmacy contact numbers should also be kept safely in a waterproof bag, says the CDC, along with a backup list of this same information at a friend’s home or other remote location.

Have a pool/spa, or do you plan to spend time in one this summer? Check out our post “Making Your Pool or Spa Mobility-Friendly” here.