By Efrem Castillo, M.D., chief medical officer, UnitedHealthcare Medicare & Retirement
Today’s seniors are more active than ever before. Popular pastimes such as golf, bike riding and gardening provide daily opportunities to exercise and socialize, and there’s no better time to enjoy these outdoor pursuits than the summer months.
However, as temperatures rise, so do the risks of heat stress. Extreme heat can be dangerous for anyone, but older adults are especially vulnerable to conditions such as dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke due to the body’s natural aging process, underlying chronic conditions and side effects from prescription drugs. Excessive exposure to heat can quickly lead to serious illness or even death in older adults, and today’s seniors could be at greater risk than previous generations as research shows summers are getting hotter over time.
The best defense against heat stress and related illnesses is staying informed, prepared and alert. The following tips can help older adults stay active, healthy and safe when temperatures are high.
Know the signs. Be alert for common signs of heat exhaustion, which include heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, tiredness, weakness, dizziness, headache, nausea, vomiting and fainting. Seek medical attention right away if you notice any of these symptoms.
Stay hydrated. Your body needs more water than you may think – and you need to drink before you are thirsty. Ask your doctor how much you should be drinking if you are directed to limit your fluid intake due to certain medications.
Time it right and take plenty of breaks. Make the most of early morning and evening hours (before 11 a.m. and after 4 p.m.) when temperatures are cooler to do outdoor activities such as gardening or walking. Take regular breaks from the heat in air-conditioned areas or designated cooling centers, if necessary.
Take it inside. Don’t let the heat keep you sedentary. When it’s too hot for your usual outdoor jog or bike ride, explore indoor-based activities at the gym or your community center. Many Medicare Advantage plans cover gym memberships, so be sure to brush up on your benefits to get the most out of your plan.
Use the buddy system. If you choose to do an outdoor activity when it’s hot, bring a friend. Besides enjoying each other’s company, you can help each other stay alert to any signs of heat stress or get help if necessary.
Skip the stove. Cooking can heat up your living space quickly, so avoid turning on the stove or oven when it’s very hot. Cold foods like salad, fresh fruit and yogurt can be healthy, convenient and refreshing options when the mercury rises.
For more information about staying safe in the summer heat, check out this AARP article, or search for “heat safety” on AARP.org. You can find additional health and wellness information and tips for healthy living at newsroom.uhc.com.
Efrem Castillo, M.D., is the chief medical officer of UnitedHealthcare Medicare & Retirement, the largest business dedicated to the health and well-being needs of seniors and other beneficiaries. UnitedHealthcare serves more than 12.3 million beneficiaries nationwide, including nearly 1.2 million in Florida.