Summer means an increase in gardening, sightseeing, picnics, projects around the house and other outdoor activities. Too often, though, these activities bring unwanted emergencies such as bug bites, blisters, dehydration, sunburn, and cuts and scrapes that can affect some seniors more seriously.
Experts say most seniors can avoid health problems by taking simple precautions such as using insect repellent and sunscreen, avoiding outdoor activities when the sun is at its hottest, keeping picnic foods well-chilled and drinking plenty of water. But for those individuals with certain illnesses and chronic conditions, minor annoyances can turn into major health problems without prompt attention.
"Certain conditions predispose individuals to complications," says Dr. Patrick Coll, associate director of the University of Connecticut's Center on Aging. "People with diabetes, stroke victims, the frail elderly, people who suffer from Alzheimer's disease and those who take certain medications should monitor any injuries more carefully."
For example, older people are disproportionately affected by prolonged heat waves of over 90-degree temperatures with high humidity. Risk factors include age, conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, and medications including diuretics, beta blockers, aspirin, antihistamines and some antidepressants.
Many medications taken by seniors for high blood pressure and heart disease, for example, are diuretics they remove salt and fluid volume from the body. Coupled with perspiring from high temperatures, diuretics can lead to dehydration, which, in turn, can lead to discomfort, confusion, damage to major organs and even death if not treated. Even if you don't feel thirsty, be sure to drink plenty of fluids and stay cool when the temperature soars. Seek help immediately if you start to feel confused, are unable to keep down liquids or develop a fever.
Thinning skin can also make older adults more susceptible to sun damage, poison ivy and bug bites. If a day in the sun has left you red as a beet, apply a hydrocortisone cream (an over-the-counter product) as soon as possible and take an anti-inflammatory pain reliever, such as ibuprofen. Blistering skin indicates more serious sunburn. Don't cover or break the blisters, and call your doctor for advice. Swelling, itching and redness from bug bites or poison ivy should disappear within 48 hours. If not, it could indicate a secondary infection.
Yard work, fishing and working on the car can result in cuts, scratches and punctures. According to Coll, most scrapes will heal quickly if cleaned, dabbed with a topical antibiotic and covered with a bandage to prevent the wound from drying out.