Now that the heat of summertime has descended over most of the country like a heavy wool blanket, I thought it would be good to review some safety tips, specifically geared toward the elderly. According to the CDC, of the roughly 3,500 people who die from the effects of heat exhaustion each year, the elderly (and the aging) are those who are most at risk.
By now you are aware of the fact that you are no longer dealing with your mom or dad at their peak physical form, and yet you may also still have a mobile, active family to consider this summer as well. How can you handle both?
Cautiously — using empathy and compassion for everyone involved. The situation may not be ideal, but it certainly can be managed. Bear in mind that you are now dealing with a person whose immune system could react differently to the heat and the sun than in years past, so while mom may love to tend her garden for hours each afternoon, you are right to be concerned about the record-setting heat. In this example, you can encourage her to make subtle, safer changes that will make you both happy — perhaps mom will be willing to garden in the morning, or maybe she can cut her gardening time short and drink a rehydration drink afterward.
These are the main risks to watch out for with your aging parents during the summertime months:
As people age, they not only lose more fluid from their bodies through their cells, they are also generally not able to perceive when they are thirsty as well as younger people, making dehydration much more of a risk. Sports drinks aren’t just for athletes anymore.
For a variety of reasons, the elderly do not necessarily react to the sudden change in temperature of going from inside in the A/C to outdoors in the sun as easily as others do. Medications, medical conditions and simple aging all contribute to this situation. Remind your parents to apply sunscreen as part of their morning regimen. If mom or dad has a caretaker, make sure she applies sunscreen to your parent(s) before they spend time outdoors.
Bugs and Ivies
Mosquitoes and ticks (depending on the part of the country you live in) can carry with them extraordinarily dangerous neurological, viral and bacterial infections. Make sure there are no areas or containers of standing water on your mom or dad’s property, for starters, and make certain they apply bug spray when they spend time outdoors.
Aging skin suffers changes including thinning, and medications and medical conditions don’t help here, either. For those parents who still like to tend to their gardens, an encounter with poison ivy or oak could prove quite harmful. Hiring a reputable gardener in their area to tend to problem areas can keep mom and dad safe without hurting their feelings.
If your parents still live on their own, they may consider a road trip, as they have done in years past. If their car breaks down or they get lost in the heat and with no supplies… well, the thought is unbearable. Maybe you can invite your parents along on your own family vacation, or perhaps they’d enjoy having one or more of their “children” take the time to go with “the folks” to their destination of choice – for old time’s sake. Also, go ahead and help your mom or dad by creating a packing checklist, complete with their list of daily medications and dosages, as well as the clothes and toiletries they will need to feel comfortable for a weekend or more away.
If your parents insist on going it alone, make them promise not to drive after dark or during inclement weather.
You still have family to care for and your own life to live, and there will be times that you may be out of town with your own family. Despite the sunshine, depression rates can soar during the summer, as aging loved ones who can no longer travel get left behind, those who can travel choose to stay back with mates who cannot, and the reality of aging sets in. Make sure to stay in touch with your folks, and arrange in advance for a visitor or even a small care package. With today’s Internet abilities, you should be able to chat with mom and dad from around the globe. They want to see your face no matter where it is calling from, so help them make that possible
with the gadgets and knowledge they may need.
As always, I am here to help you and your family on this journey.
All the best,
[Rabbi Scott Saulson, Ph.D.]