John's great-grandson was graduating from high school. The ceremony was in a large outdoor football stadium. John was 93, which is what the temperature was supposed to be that day.
His family members were worried. To sit in a shaded spot, they would have to arrive at least an hour early, which meant John would be in the heat that much longer. Bringing an umbrella wouldn't be an option in a crowd like that.
John's family tried to convince him to drink extra water prior to the graduation, but he refused. "I already have to pee every 10 minutes as it is," he protested.
Finally, another plan emerged. John would wait in the air conditioning back at the house, where the family would join him afterwards for a celebration party and show him the video.
John and his family made a wise decision, said Janine Ruiz, a Registered Nurse/Clinical Nurse Consultant for Via Christi Villages. Heat exhaustion and heat strokes are concerns for all ages in the summertime, she said, but seniors are particularly vulnerable.
Here are her tips for seniors (generally considered people 65 or older) taking extra precautions in the heat:
Avoid being out in extreme temperatures, especially for long periods of time. Even if you've worked and played outside most of your life, it's not worth getting a heat stroke over at this point in your life. If you're used to a daily outside walk, do it in the early morning. "I would encourage this over walking at night," Ruiz said. "A lot of times, it doesn't even start to cool off until at least 10 o'clock." Better yet, Ruiz said, walk in an air-conditioned climate like the mall.
Water is absolutely the best thing you can drink. This goes for any time of the year, but especially in the summer. You might think a sports drink is better, but they're often loaded with sugar and besides, the electrolytes could wreak havoc with any medication or low-sodium diet you might be on. Sugar-free drinks like Crystal Lite and green tea are OK, Ruiz said, but anything with caffeine and alcohol are actually dehydrating your body. "Heat and dehydration are a recipe for disaster," Ruiz said. "And with electrolytes, it's a delicate balance for seniors."
Shade, sunscreen and spray bottles are your friends. Certain medications could make you more susceptible to a sunburn, Ruiz said. Sunburns aren't just painful, they can easily lead to skin cancer later in life. If you enjoy seeing your grandchildren playing an outdoors sport, invest in a good chair and a large umbrella. And while the sunscreen won't help you stay cooler, Ruiz said, a spray bottle probably will.
Speaking of outdoors sports, there's no law that says you can't stay in your car and watch from there. If you have the chance to enjoy the game in air conditioning, consider taking it. (This might include simply watching a video of it afterwards.) Or, if you're in a wheelchair and you're in a venue that has a shaded wheelchair area, this is for you.
Wear loose-fitting clothes and a wide-brimmed hat. Don't wear wool or silk, which tend to retain heat. The clothes should be a cool fabric, but what the clothes are made of probably doesn't matter as much as comfort, Ruiz said. "Whatever you have that is permeable, and is allowing air to get through, is what you should be wearing in the heat," she said. Try to opt for light colors instead of dark, which absorb the heat.
Consult your doctor if you are planning to be in the heat -for example, a vacation to Arizona- and ask questions. Your physician knows your history and may be aware of some personal needs that you haven't even thought of.
If you are with a senior, be aware of the signs of heat exhaustion. These may include dizziness, nausea or sudden weakness. If a person of any age is not sweating in the heat, Ruiz said, that's never a good sign.
When these signs occur in a person, get them out of the heat and seek immediate medical attention.
"You just can't take shortcuts," Ruiz said, "and this is not something you want to mess with. Once the process of a heat stroke starts, it's hard to turn around and often time results in death."
Janine Ruiz, Regional Clinical Consultant for Via Christi Villages, may be reached at (316) 680-6442. To find out more about Via Christi's Senior Care, visit http://www.via-christi.org/senior-care.