The temperature has been 90 and above with heat indices in the 100s, and it’s only July.
Active seniors who enjoy being outdoors might be unaware of the dangerous effects of the sun. Growing evidence through the years has linked the sun to dangers such as skin cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, risk factors for skin cancer are actinic keratoses (AKs), small, scaly patches on the face, ears, backs of the hands and arms.
These occur most often in those who are middle-aged or older with light skin that might have been exposed to too much sun.
Many seniors are on multiple medications. When exposed to the sun, skin might develop itchy rashes for some taking certain medications prescribed for high blood pressure, or antibiotics or sulfur-based drugs.
But medications aren’t the only issue. Characteristics of aging skin make it more susceptible to the sun.
In his book “Your Skin from A to Z,” Dr. Jerome Litt explains the overall thinning of the skin’s epidermis that occurs with aging.
Aging also brings about a decrease in the number of pigment cells in both exposed and non-exposed areas of the skin, resulting in an inability to tan as deeply or as evenly as in earlier years.
We live in the sunny South, so what’s a person to do? A daily dose of sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 filters out harmful and cancer-producing sun rays.
An “Archives of Dermatology” study found that people who used sunscreen daily – even when they weren’t planning to be outside for extended periods – had developed 24 percent fewer AKs than those people who used sunscreen inconsistently.
This survey implies that even a quick trip, going in and out of a vehicle, to places like a senior center or the grocery store can be dangerous.
To protect yourself:
- Apply sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher daily and reapply every two hours if outdoors.
- Minimize sun exposure from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing that covers you and a wide-brimmed hat that shades your ears. An umbrella also offers portable shade.
- Wear UV-protective sunglasses.
- Drink plenty of fluids, at least eight glasses of water every day.
- Avoid long exposure to the sun. This increases your internal core temperature and makes you susceptible to heat stroke.
- If sweating profusely, you are depleting your electrolytes, and water isn’t enough. Drink Gatorade or other sports drinks that replenish electrolytes as they hydrate.
Protect yourself and those you love, and have a great time this summer.
Rachel Carson, certified senior advisor and retired registered physical therapist, is the owner of Home Instead Senior Care, serving the Lowcountry since 1997.