When summer rolls around, it is only natural to start spending more time outdoors. After months of cooler temperatures and indoor activities, we welcome a chance to soak up a little more sunshine. A healthy dose of summer sun and fresh air can alleviate depression, improve sleep patterns in Alzheimer’s patients, and increase the body’s vitamin D production. However, it’s critical to remember that while limited sun exposure has its benefits, there are also risks involved.
August is Summer Sun Safety Month and it’s a great time to review the risks of sun exposure and how to stay protected while outdoor activities are at their peak. University of Washington dermatology expert Dr. Jennifer Gardner says, “You have to be smart, but you shouldn’t shy away from doing what you love. You just have to be smart and prepared about how you do it.”
Seniors Face Increased Risks From Sun Exposure
The body’s ability to respond to the negative effects of the sun changes with age. Consequently, a senior’s risk of suffering from heat-related illnesses and over-exposure to ultraviolet (UV)rays increases. The most common dangers for seniors from sun exposure are:
- Skin Conditions: Most age-related skin conditions occur because of sun exposure. UV rays reduce the skin cells’ ability to produce collagen and elastin. Years of sun exposure can lead to skin discoloration, wrinkles, and benign tumors.
- Eye Damage: Sun-related damage is the leading cause of cataracts and eye cancers— UV radiation damages the eye’s surface tissues, cornea, and lens.
- Hyperthermia: Older people are at an increased risk for developing heat-related illnesses, including heatstroke, heat edema, heat syncope, heat cramps, and heat exhaustion.
- Skin Cancer: The majority of the 5.4 million cases of skin cancer diagnosed each year are found in those over the age of 65. According to the CDC, less than half of seniors protect their skin when exposed to the sun for more than an hour which could contribute to the high rate of skin cancer among the elderly.
Stay Protected While Enjoying the Sun
The most obvious way to protect oneself from the sun is to avoid it entirely, but that’s not practical for most seniors. By following a few simple guidelines, seniors can enjoy the outdoors and remain safe.
Sun Protection Tips
- Apply Sunscreen: A sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher should be applied to exposed skin and reapplied about every 80 minutes. There are three types of sunscreen available. One contains certain ingredients that create a chemical reaction that filters out UV rays. The other, commonly referred to as sunblock, contains zinc oxide or titanium dioxide that blocks UVB light by reflecting it. The combination of the two is a broad-spectrum sunscreen that offers the most protection available, and it will block both UVA and UVB light. Plan on applying sunscreen when in the sun for more than 10 minutes.
- Physical Protection: Limiting the skin’s exposure to the sun makes it safer and easier to be outside during sunny days. The best way to do this is by wearing lightweight clothing that covers the arms and legs. Protect your face, ears, and neck with a wide-brimmed hat, and wear sunglasses that offer 99-100% UVA/UVB protection.
- Seek Shade: Finding a nice shady spot to spend outdoor time not only protects you from the sun’s rays but also offers a cooler alternative to the full heat of the sun. The sun is at its strongest between 10 am and 4 pm. When possible, plan outdoor time outside these hours to limit exposure. It is important to note that sand, snow, and water reflect the sun’s rays. Car windows also let in UV light.
- Medication Interactions: People often take more medications as they age. Some medicines, including antibiotics, antifungals, cholesterol-lowering drugs, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, do not interact well with the sun and may cause complications.
Ways Caregivers Help Seniors Stay Safe in the Summer Sun
Limiting seniors’ exposure to sun and heat may require developing new routines. Caregivers are valuable resources for helping older people maintain summer sun safety and still enjoy all that summer has to offer.
- Plan daily activities by avoiding the hours when the sun is at its peak between 10 am and 4 pm.
- Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside and reapply every 80 minutes or after going in the water.
- Confirm that medications do not have the potential to increase sun sensitivity.
- Pack a summer sun kit that includes sunscreen, water, backup sunglasses, and a collapsible floppy hat.
Perhaps one of the more important routines caregivers can help older people with is routinely checking for potential skin cancer. Skin cancer is very easy to treat when caught early. That’s why asking someone you trust to check for changing spots on the skin is crucial in preventing further damage. Helping find a healthy balance between staying protected and being actively engaged on sunny days ensures that seniors can enjoy summer activities without putting their health at risk.
About Generations Home Care
Generations Home Care personalized in-home care and support services help those recovering from illness, injury, or surgery, living with a chronic disease, or dealing with the natural process of aging. We help people live a fuller, healthier, and more independent life.
Our caregivers are trained in the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommended COVID-19 safety precautions. We offer levels of care ranging from companionship, to respite for the primary family caregiver, to homemaking services, to assistance with activities of daily living, to Alzheimer’s and dementia care. Generations Home Care takes a holistic approach and emphasizes a consistent, client-centered plan of care.
Our Specialty Services Include:
- Rehab or hospital-to-home programs for safe discharge.
- Short-term post-operative care during recovery periods.
- Non-medical life management services for people with chronic conditions.
- Veteran’s connection to care program.
- Live-in services and couples care.
If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you, contact us today at 602-595-HOME (4663) or by filling out the contact form on our website.