Summer is a lovely time of year to get outdoors. For older adults, it’s especially enjoyable to get involved in recreational activities, knowing that you’re getting exercise at the same time.
But 50% of falls among seniors happen outside the home, and more happen in the summer because everyone's outside.
Now, dear reader, you might be thinking, “That will never happen to me.” You mentally list how you can demonstrate you’re independent and can still take care of yourself. In fact, most of those outdoor falls happen among younger and more active seniors!
So here’s a little mental weight lifting to tone up your safety awareness before you go outside.
1. Start with the obvious. Remove clutter from decks, walkways and steps. Keep an eye out for debris on driveways, streets and parking lots. Do your part to remove clutter from public pavements. Too, check out the sidewalks and paving around your yard. Are these surfaces smooth or to they offer tripping hazards when you’re walking to the mailbox or taking out the recycle bin? Get them fixed!
2. Look at the shoes you’re using out of doors. If you’re a little bit unstable, beginning to lose your balance, loose shoes like flip flops or Crocs could come off and trip you up. Switch to shoes that are flat and enclose the foot. Rubber soles are great because they add extra traction. Keep your outdoor shoes by the door to make it easy to use them.
3. Protect the rest of your body when it’s hot by wearing light colored clothing that is loose. Cotton or linen are great fibers for summer clothing because they breathe far better than polyester or today’s trendy “ponte.”
4. Add protection for your head and eyes with a hat. There are many straw or straw-like fiber hats that allow air circulation under the hat around your scalp. Ultraviolet light can be damaging to the eyes. Look for a wide brimmed hat if you’re going to be outdoors with a glare, such as near a pool or lake or the beach. Even ball caps can be found with a long bill that helps shade the eyes. And add sunglasses for further protection.
5. Drink plenty of water, even if you don’t think you need it. Aging means you don’t always get thirsty when your body ready needs hydration. If it’s humid outside, your body may not be able to evaporate sweat fast enough to keep you cool. Add dehydration and you could be susceptible to heat stress illnesses.
6. Plan for outdoor excursions when it’s cooler. Do your gardening, walking, or bike riding in the morning or evening, when the daytime temperatures will be at least a few degrees less than midday. Even if it’s the only time you can book a court, avoid playing strenuous sports like tennis, or even golf, during the hottest part of the day. At the least, you risk sunburn when the sun in strongest, so slather on that sunscreen.
7. The challenge of being out during the cooler part of the day is, of course, bugs. Mosquitoes carry viruses such as West Nile and Zika. Older adults are more disposed to illness from one of these viruses if bitten. So use your bug spray. Even if you’ve preferred natural remedies in the past, staying well as you age might mean switching to a chemical spray and wearing clothing with long sleeves and pants to minimize the chances of a bite.
8. Finally, be prepared in case you fall. Learn to fall safely. Programs in various senior centers can help you learn how to react if you lose your balance and feel yourself falling. Practice means that you are less likely to end up seriously injured if you fall outdoors. And, look ahead. If you fall outside and can’t get up on your own, look around for something stable and sturdy nearby, from a tree to a parked car. If you can, roll to the object and use it to push against. Your arm and shoulder muscles are stronger than you might think.