Your Health Matters: Seniors and Summer Safety

J. Black photo 2010By Dr. Judith Black, medical director for Senior Markets at Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield West Virginia

Warm, sunny days can be a welcome sight after winter snow and spring rains. But summertime can turn deadly when the temperature soars. According to the National Institute on Aging, seniors are particularly at risk during hot weather.

Older bodies don’t adjust easily to sudden temperature changes. Also, people 65 or older are more likely to have a medical condition or take medicines that interfere with body temperature regulation.

I advise my patients to be on alert for heat-related illnesses.

Heat exhaustion means that your body can’t keep itself cool. Symptoms are thirst, dizziness, weakness, lack of coordination, nausea and excessive sweating. Your pulse might be normal or raised; your skin could feel cold and clammy. It’s best to rest in a cool place and drink plenty of liquids. If you don’t cool down quickly, visit your doctor or an emergency room. This condition can progress to heat stroke.

Heat stroke is an emergency and can be life-threatening. Warning signs can include a rapid rise in body temperature; dry, flushed skin; a rapid or weak pulse; a throbbing headache; nausea; dizziness; confusion; and a staggering walk. See a doctor immediately.

To lower your risk for heat-related illness:

  • Drink plenty of water or juice. Avoid caffeine or alcoholic beverages. If your doctor has told you to limit liquids, ask what to do when it’s very hot.
  • If you don’t have a fan or air-conditioning, open windows at night on two sides of your home to keep air flowing.
  • Close curtains or shades to block the sun during the hottest part of the day.
  • Lie down and rest. Sponge off with cool water or take a cool shower or bath.
  • Try to spend at least two hours a day in air-conditioning such as in a shopping mall, senior center or a friend’s house.
  • Ask a family member or friend to check on you at least twice a day.

Summer is also a time to check your skin. Each year in the United States, more than a million people are diagnosed with skin cancer. Although it’s not usually deadly, skin cancer can cause serious problems. What’s more, once people develop skin cancer, they are at high risk of developing another new skin cancer later.

Luckily, most forms of skin cancer can be prevented by limiting your exposure to the sun and other sources of ultraviolet light. To protect your skin, stay away from tanning salons, minimize your time in the sun and wear sunscreen and protective clothing.

If you develop skin cancer, it can usually be successfully treated. But it’s important to catch it early, so get to know your skin and check it regularly for changes. Once a month, go into a well-lit room with a full length mirror and take off all your clothes. Look at the skin everywhere on your body, including areas that never see the sun, such as the space between your toes. Ask someone you trust to look at your back and other places you cannot see so well. Be on the lookout for any unusual skin markings. Note any moles that have changed in size, texture, color or shape, or any moles or scabs that continue to bleed or won’t heal. If you spot a mole or skin change that you think could be cancerous, have your doctor look at it.

Enjoy the summer sun, but be safe because . . . your heath matters.


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