When it comes to summer heat, the youngest and oldest among us are most at risk for developing heat-related illness. As a caregiver to an older parent, make sure your parents are safe and comfortable throughout the hottest months of the year.
Assess the condition of your elderly parents' cooling equipment before the mercury rises, and schedule required repairs for air conditioning systems accordingly. If they don't have air conditioning systems, equip their home with fans. Box fans set into windows can remove hot air from the house and pedestal fans produce a cooling breeze throughout a room.
Set the thermostat to comfortable temperatures for both day and night. The elderly can feel chills easily, but higher floors of the home may remain stuffy. Consider installing a programmable thermostat. The air conditioning will kick on automatically, but the temperature can be adjusted if needed.
Older adults who are ambulatory may seek out alternative cool places if their homes hold in the heat. Movie theaters, shopping malls, and senior centers all provide air conditioning in the summer. Schedule a daily or weekly outing with your parent to keep cool and socialize.
Wearing season-appropriate clothing can make a big difference in body temperature when the thermometer approaches the danger zones. Make sure laundry is clean and that plenty of lightweight layers like cotton t-shirts and pants or shorts are available to wear. Pack off-season clothing away in the loft or a wardrobe so your parent won't accidentally dress in heavier clothing.
Sunblock, sunglasses, and a cap are the main items needed to protect from overexposure to the sun. Older parents are most likely part of a generation that didn't regularly use sunscreen, but rather sunbathed with abandon. Teach your mother or father the basics:
- Avoid direct, prolonged sun exposure.
- Choose a broad-spectrum product to block UVA and UVB rays.
- Apply the amount of lotion that would fill a shot glass.
- Re-apply sunscreen after two hours.
Talk about the appropriate times of day to sit outside or walk. Generally, it's safest to avoid exposure during the hottest part of the day, around noontime.
Hydration plays a big role in keeping your older parent from becoming overheated. The Illinois Council on Long Term Care suggests giving your senior family member a reusable water bottle and filling it with water or other non-caffeinated beverage several times throughout the day. Prepare light meals, including salad or fruit with high water content. Help your parent bathe in a lukewarm or cool tub or shower to cool off. Check for signs of dehydration:
- Decreased saliva
- Decreased, dark, or concentrated urine
Know the Signs
Heat stroke and heat exhaustion can be serious conditions in an older person, particularly if he has pre-existing heart or circulation problems. Be vigilant and watch out for these symptoms:
- Clammy skin
- Becoming very cold
- Running a fever up to 103 degrees F
- Profuse sweating
If your parent experiences any of these symptoms or just doesn't feel healthy like him or herself, seek immediate medical attention.
Be sure to routinely inquire on your parents with regular phone calls or visits. Put a phone in more than one room and make sure to check that all phones are charged. Introduce yourself to the neighbours. It's good to have a contact close by who can personally watch if you're busy or if your parent doesn't answer the phone.