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Summer Tips for Seniors

June 11, 2019

In 1997 Mary Schmich of the Chicago Tribune composed a column in which she dispensed the advice she would have given, had she been asked to give a collegiate commencement address.

The column, bearing the headline “Advice, Like Youth, Probably Just Wasted on the Young,” became something of a sensation, as its words of wisdom were later attributed to famed author Kurt Vonnegut, and an address he supposedly delivered at MIT. (That was not true.)

Schmich began the column this way:

Wear sunscreen. … If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it.

While that bit of advice might have been ignored by graduates, it should be fully embraced by seniors all these years later. It can’t be emphasized enough, in fact, given the fact that summer is now upon us and given what we know about the body chemistry of those in the 65-and-over set.

Simply put, their skin has lost fat and water over the years, making it more susceptible to penetration by UV rays, potentially damaging its DNA and compromising their immune systems.

So yeah, wear sunscreen. Seriously. It should be SPF 30 or higher, and applied 15 to 30 minutes before going outside. And it should be just one part of seniors’ larger strategy for beating the heat, a significant challenge. The Centers for Disease Control determined that between 1999 and 2010, for instance, those 65 and over accounted for 36 percent of the heat-related fatalities in the U.S. A common-sense approach to the summer months is, as a result, an absolute must.

Here are some other tips:

    1. Stay hydrated: Six to eight glasses of water are recommended each day — and if not water, then juice or a sports drink. Soda won’t cut it. Neither will coffee. And alcohol is a particular no-no.
    2. Use some common sense: Avoid the sun when it’s at its hottest — i.e., before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m. And by all means don’t stay outside for too long.
    3. Cool is the rule: Because seniors’ bodies don’t regulate temperature as well it might have in their younger years, it is best to luxuriate in the air conditioning. If you don’t have it where you live, go to the mall or the movies. Set up camp in a library or a senior center. There are plenty of options.
    4. Dress right: Wide-brimmed hats are recommended, to keep the sun off your face and neck. Light-colored, loose-fitting clothing is best.
    5. Do your homework: Check the forecast; certainly it’s easy enough to access, whether via your television, radio, smartphone or newspaper. And understand the symptoms of heat stroke — i.e., high body temperature, dizziness, headache, confusion and nausea.

There are other things to keep in mind, like the importance of wearing sunglasses to protect one’s eyes or the significance of using bug spray, since seniors are more susceptible to West Nile Virus. But the biggest thing is the heat — staying out of it, protecting oneself from it, etc.

So wear sunscreen, as Kurt Vonnegut might have said (but did not).

Categories: General