How can I prevent summer injuries?

The dog days of summer are fast approaching, and while we cannot control the rising temperatures on the streets, we can control the heat index of our bodies.

When temperatures rise, so does the risk for heat stroke and other heat-related injuries, but oftentimes the warning signs for these conditions go dangerously unnoticed. Senior citizens are at an especially high risk of experiencing heat stress and heat-related injuries throughout the summer.

Dr. Michael Stern, co-director of Geriatric Emergency Medicine Fellowship at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, says, "As a person ages the body's response to higher temperature changes. Compared with a younger person, a senior citizen may not be able to sense elevations in temperature as quickly or be able to cool down as readily. As well,certain medications for chronic illness that many older people take can affect the body's normal responses to heat."

Drs. Stern and Paras offer seniors the following tips for a cool and injury-free summer:

  • Slow down. When temperatures begin to reach extreme highs you should stay in the coolest place available out of the sun or in an air-conditioned room, and reduce or eliminate all strenuous activities.
  • Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of fluids even if you do not feel thirsty. You should minimize the amount of caffeinated beverages and alcohol that you drink, and grab a water bottle or a sports drink instead. A good test of hydration is to make sure that your urine is always clear in color.
  • Avoid salt tablets. Those on salt-restrictive diets should consult a physician before increasing their salt intake.
  • Don't get too much sun. Sunburn makes the job of heat dissipation that much more difficult. Always remember to use sunblock (SPF 15 or greater) when outdoors for prolonged periods of time in the summer months, even on hazy or cloudy days.
  • Dress cool. Lightweight, light-colored, loose clothing reflects heat and sunlight, and helps your body maintain normal temperatures.
  • Anticipate change. Turn air conditioning systems or other ventilators on as soon as you go inside and take off extra layers of clothing when going outside. For seniors having trouble recognizing temperature changes, these automatic actions help maintain a comfortable indoor and outdoor environment.

You can prevent heat-related injury by avoiding strenuous activities during the hottest part of the day and by drinking plenty of fluids before, during and after outdoor activities. Create shade with a sun umbrella or wide-brimmed hat. If working outdoors, take frequent breaks and cool down with a wet towel. Avoid alcoholic beverages. If there is no air-conditioning at home, keep the house cooler by drawing blinds that face the sun. Open all windows and utilize fans. Take frequent cool showers or baths.

Prevention is what doctors like to strive for, rather than waiting until somebody gets hurt. If you’re working out in the yard, make sure to wear good, supportive shoes. Don't mow the grass when it's just rained and might be wet or slippery. Using common sense can prevent a lot of injuries.

To prevent sports injuries—people running around outside, playing sports, kids doing what kids do—use common sense as well and avoid situations where the terrain might be unstable or wet, causing you to slip, twist or fall.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.