Ideas for keeping seniors cool in the warmer weather months…by francy Dickinson
When I began caring for my mother in her 90’s with heart problems, I was shocked at the extent of her feeling ‘of being cold’. She wore layers of clothing all year long…she had her space heater on in the summer and wanted me to give her heating pads. Why? I would be so confused and wanted her to be outside in the sunshine…but she was too cold there.
I talked to the doctor about this and he said, it was her medications. Many medications fool the body into believing that it is cold. Even though the seniors temperature is normal, they ‘feel cold’ . So, that made sense to me and I tried to help her with year round flannel sheets and a good electric blanket on her bed. I would serve her tea warm not cold in the summer and I would give her a hat and sweater when we sat outside in the middle of a heat wave. Lucky for us, we live in the Seattle area and our summers are very moderate. But, all along…I would push her drinking juice and water.
ELDERS DO NOT DRINK WATER….LIKE WE DO!
I don’t know when we all started to drink so much water. But older folks did not grow up with water bottles. They had drinking fountains and drank when they were thirsty…so it is very hard for them to drink water, on our demand. Mother and my husband George…would drink water with pills –but just enough to take the pills. So, I have learned to give fruits like grapes and watermelon, fruit drinks watered down…and as much decaf tea and coffee as I can get in them during the day.
Water is not only important for reduction of heat stroke, but also for good bowel movements and kidney functions. It’s not just water for thirst, its water for a body to function well and stay healthy and working. Many seniors take water pills to help their hearts clear out the water in the body….that alone will drain the system of liquids. So the seniors have to keep intake of water up…and up…and they have to do it in the summer even more.
WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN IT IS HOT AND THE SENIOR THINKS THEY ARE COLD?
This is so important. You simply have to ‘remind’ them over and over again to drink…to keep the room cool with a fan or AC and if not — you have to take them to a ‘Cool Center’ in hot weather. Each summer we have waves of extra hot weather..and with it waves of seniors that lose their lives to heat stroke and dehydration. As neighbors, family, spouses and simply caring people…we have to be as observant of our elders as we are of our small babies.
If you know a senior that is alone during this heat wave…please check on them over and over again. Seniors do not want others to fuss over them…so they will say; “Oh, I’m fine here -everything is OK at my place.” Do not take that as an answer…go and check…see if they have the temperature in order and there are signs of drinking liquids.
IDEAS FOR KEEPING SENIORS COOL:
- Cooling Centers are set up all over your area. They can be at high schools, churches, senior centers. Just ask, call your local library and ask them to locate a senior cooling center for your own senior. Those librarians are always a wonderful source of information…please use them!
- Time for a movie…or a walk over at the mall. If you just want to get your senior out and about…find a movie they will enjoy and know they will have a couple of hours in a cool spot. If their apartment is extra hot, call the local fire department (on their business line, not the 911) and ask them if an air conditioner is available for a senior that is bed bound. If the senior is on Hospice, ask Hospice to check on the temperature in their home. There are many avenues of community help out there…get creative and find someone who will step forward and give you help.
- Not only can you give your senior liquids, but fruits such as watermelon, grapes, apples and always bananas for their potassium. Ice cream is a senior favorite, but Popsicle are golden. Sherbet and Popsicle are really easy for seniors to have two to three times a day. You can buy a big bunch of Popsicle at any box store for very little price. If you are going to check on a senior that you do not know well…arrive with a box of Popsicle and ask them to enjoy them a few times a day to stay cool and keep their body hydrated.
- Bed clothes are way to warm at night. Add flannel sheets to keep the senior feeling warm — but remove the electric blanket and layers of heavy blankets during the summer heat.
- Change the senior’s clothes. Layers are fine, but make it layers of underwear, tee-shirt type of material and then a sweater or shawl. They do not get to wear winter warm clothing in summer. I actually change the closet in the hot and cold weather to make the dressing choices easier for the senior. So flannel shirts go out the door to the storage closet and the polo shirts and short sleeve shirts hang in the closet. Adding a light jacket, sweater or sweat shirt is fine…but keep the selection of clothing tilting towards the cool side in the summer. Remember: Mumu’s were invented for one reason…comfort in the heat 😉
- Most seniors shower. As you age using a tub for a bath becomes harder and the risk of falls increases. Showers are the best way to cool down each day…a moderate temp shower on the cooler than normal side will reduce the body temp and ease the skin. ALWAYS HAVE A BENCH OR SEAT IN THE SHOWER AREA WITH A GOOD WALL MOUNT HANDLE FOR SAFETY!! You know; senior skin gets thinner and it makes it very sensitive. So you will have to keep moisturizer handy for the senior to use in the summer. A Spitzer bottle of water will also provide the skin and face with moisture in the heat.
- PERSONAL: (Cover your ears.) Body parts are body parts…so women that are older have hot spots under their breasts, on the high thigh or hips where the stomach skin slouches down and other personal spots. Men are the same with even their penis effected with the skin shrinking down and the area becoming moist. So, ask your doctor 4 help here…or just get some cream that you would use on baby bottoms to fight diaper rash. That cream will go on, in those sensitive areas and keep them from rash and infection in extreme heat. (OK, you can uncover your ears now)
- Cool clothes or small zip lock bags with ice inside held under the arm pits –on the neck, or lower back, will cool the body fast. NOTE TO SELF: Check to see that the senior has ice available.
- Fans should be kept on in the sleeping area…maybe the senior can sleep in a back bedroom instead of their usual bedroom…check the house for the coolest spots and keep the air flowing or the AC on in those areas. Check the internet for less expensive portable AC units. Do your home work and know the investment is always well worth it, when the heat hits.
- Be creative. I know seniors get stuck in their ways…but take a look at their home or apartment…you can work things out. Then if all else fails…I sit down and get serious. I told my mom– that I loved her and wanted her to be with me as long as possible. Her health was simply the most important thing to me, so how could we keep her body cool and healthy? I made it a joint venture…don’t lose your family, friend, neighbor or spouse in a heat wave…it can be prevented!!
- My tip for seniors alone…get them a small ice chest to have by their feet, at their favorite chair. Then you can fill it with Boost, water, fruits and sugar treats etc and they only have to reach down and open the lid to get refreshed!
Once again, I thank you for caring for your loved one. Because of you, their life is richer and you have to focus on that. I know that getting thanks from seniors in care is rare. So, take it from me…YOU ARE SPECIAL…francy
PS I have been going through hard times with my husband Georgie, so I have not kept the blog up to date. I am sorry for that…I will try harder. Georgie has Alzheimer’s and is forgetting how to walk. I have had to re teach him to walk on a weekly basis, lately. He also had so many accidents that he is now using Depends….it was a hard thing for him to do, he was so sad over it. Life is never easy with care giving but, I do want to be here for you and I know you support me. It’s a lonely road when your spouse is failing in their health. Let’s work together to make the road as smooth as it can be for us all…f.