Summer Health TipsSummer Health Tips

Summer is almost here, delivering sunny weather and lots of opportunities to get outside. It also brings a few health risks that can affect seniors disproportionately, from heat stroke to Lyme disease. Learn how to reduce your risk now and you can safely enjoy the warm months ahead.

Heat stress

As we age, our bodies’ ability to handle heat often declines. The Centers for Disease Control says people age 65 and older are most susceptible to both heat stroke and heat exhaustion, both of which can be fatal. Heat stroke happens quickly, when the body stops sweating and heats up above 103 degrees. It’s a medical emergency that requires dousing the victim with cold water and waiting in the shade for the ambulance to arrive.

Heat exhaustion is more common. It can come on over the course of several hot days, especially in people who aren’t getting enough water or don’t have air conditioning. Heat exhaustion can cause dizziness, fainting, fatigue and nausea. The treatment is also the best prevention: drinking plenty of cool water, taking a cool shower, avoiding alcohol, going to an air conditioned building, and resting.

Sunburn

Adults over 50 are at the highest risk for skin cancer, so all the protective tips you’ve heard and hopefully followed over the years are still in effect. The CDC recommends that you stay out of the sun during peak UV ray hours (usually from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.), protect your skin with SPF 15 or higher sunscreen, wear long sleeves and a hat, and protect your eyes with UVA/UVB-ray blocking sunglasses.

Mosquito- and tick-borne diseases

Lyme disease and West Nile virus are perhaps the most feared illnesses spread by biting critters, although they’re far from the only ones. In a shudder-inducing article, Slate science writer Melinda Wenner Moyer noted that ticks in the US carry 14 illnesses that can harm people, and the rate of infection is rising. Meanwhile, the US recently has its first case of Chikungunya virus, courtesy of some mosquitoes in Florida. To protect yourself, spray your clothing and skin with insect repellent containing DEET, check your skin for ticks regularly, and stay out of areas known to be havens for ticks and mosquitoes.

Food poisoning

It’s not just a myth that food-borne illnesses spike in the summer. The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service says that many bacteria multiply faster when the weather is warm, and people cook and eat outdoors more during the summer.

To reduce the risk, the USDA recommends the same food safety steps as for indoor cooking: keep hands and cooking areas clean, don’t let raw meat come into contact with other foods, cook meat and poultry to the proper internal temperature, and chill leftovers.  A special rule for cookouts is that leftovers should be tossed after two hours, or one hour if the temperature is above 90 degrees.

One more reason to drink more water this summer

Another thing to know is that summer raises the likelihood of experiencing painful kidney stones. This isn’t particular to seniors — more patients show up in the emergency room during the summer than during cooler months, and the incidence of kidney stones is rising, even among young people. Doctors at the Cleveland Clinic say drinking more water, eating more citrus fruit, and cutting sodium intake can help. By drinking more water, staying out of the heat, and playing it safe with food, you can sidestep summer’s hazards and enjoy the season.

What are your top tips for staying safe and healthy during the summer? Please share in the comments!

Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelance writer whose childhood was made awesome by her grandmothers, great-grandmother, great-aunts and -uncles, and their friends.

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