Age-friendly tips for staying healthy all summer long

The summer season is upon us, and many South Jersey seniors are looking forward to traveling, seeing friends and family, and enjoying the warm weather. But summertime can also present some physical challenges for our older adult community. As we age, our bodies become more sensitive to heat, humidity, and sun exposure. Perhaps even more critical, seniors are especially vulnerable to heat-related illnesses. But by following some simple guidelines and being mindful of the warning signs, we can all enjoy the summer while staying safe and healthy. While the following summertime tips are good for our entire community, they are especially important for our older adults.

• Pass the Sunscreen and Stay Hydrated. Sun exposure is extremely dangerous. In addition to skin cancer, the dehydrating effects on your body can be debilitating. To avoid sun damage and dehydration, use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least 30 SPF and drink plenty of water. Gently remind your loved one to cover every exposed area with sunblock–including ears, upper lip, the backs of the hands, and the tops of the feet.

• Dress for Success. Encourage your loved ones to wear loose, light-colored clothing, which will help them feel cool and comfortable while providing additional sun protection. Sunglasses and a brimmed hat can help shield the delicate skin around their eyes.

• Stay Steady. People tend to spend more time outdoors during the summer, often in unfamiliar terrain. Slippery pool decks, uneven patios, and sandy beaches can all cause seniors to lose their balance. Keep your senses sharp with the assistance of eyeglasses, hearing aids, and walking devices. It’s also a good idea to keep yard and patio areas well-lit and ensure that your loved ones have comfortable, well-fitting shoes.

• Mind Your Meds. Some medications may put people at a higher risk for dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke by impairing the body’s ability to regulate its own temperature. During hot and humid weather, individuals taking major tranquilizers are at risk of developing excessive body temperature (also known as hyperthermia), which can be fatal. Individuals living with chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, alcoholism, or heart disease are at particular risk. Be sure to check in with your loved one’s physician if you have any concerns about their medications.

• Keep it Cool. Access to proper air conditioning can be life-saving for older adults, especially during our hot and humid New Jersey summers. If your loved one is struggling to cover the costs of home air conditioning, help them find a cooling center (many community centers, shopping malls, and libraries offer both free air conditioning and opportunities to socialize). You can also explore New Jersey’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to request assistance with energy bills. If you want more information on LIHEAP, reach out to our Senior Services Department to inquire about eligibility and application processes at (856) 424-1333.

• Know When to Stay Indoors. In addition to being a natural mood-booster, spending time outside is a great way for older adults to safely connect with others. But on very hot days, it’s best to limit outdoor time to early in the morning or in the evening. It’s also important to note that heat and humidity can exacerbate respiratory symptoms, so be sure to monitor your oxygen levels regularly.

• Stay on the Move. Sitting for long periods of time–whether on an airplane or in the car- -can increase the risk of blood clots. If your loved one is traveling this summer, help them plan ahead and remind them to stretch their legs frequently and walk around.

• Stay in Touch. Take a walk-through of your loved one’s home and check to see if windows, fans, and air conditioners are working properly. Try to check in by phone daily and keep a list of important phone numbers in an accessible place–including doctors, pharmacy, neighbors, friends, and family members.

Finally, I cannot overemphasize the relationship between eating well and feeling good. According to Hunger Free New Jersey, nearly 14 percent of New Jersey’s 1.5-million senior citizens face hunger each year. That translates to an astonishing 230,000 older residents who don’t have enough to eat. Luckily, our community has several programs in place to help seniors access the nutritious food they need. Camden County’s Congregate Nutrition Program serves hot meals to nearly 500 senior citizens five days a week. This program also provides transportation to four congregate sites–including the Katz JCC– where seniors can enjoy meals and participate in various activities. In addition, the JFCS Betsy & Peter Fischer Food Pantry provides monthly distributions of kosher food and household essentials to South Jersey residents of every age, faith, and background. Finally, JFCS provides support to older adults through our Kosher Meals on Wheels Program, a volunteer driven program where older adults who have difficulty preparing meals and getting out into the community maintain and improve their nutrition through volunteer-delivered kosher microwaveable meals. I encourage all those who need food support to reach out to us at (856) 424-1333.

Please know that whatever your challenges may be, you don’t have to face them alone. Jewish Family & Children’s Service is here to partner with you. Our Senior Services Department offers a wide range of supports, including social work assessments, case management, mental health counseling, support groups, kosher catered home-delivered meals, volunteer companionship, and medical advocacy through our Patient Partners program.

To find out how we can help you or someone you love, call us at (856) 424-1333 or visit jfcssnj.org/60plusservices/. Together, we can help our older adults thrive!