By Alan Koenigsberg, M.D.
Okay, so summer is not quite here just yet — it’s a little over two weeks away as I write this. Summer in Texas can be brutal, and for those of us who are over 60, 70, 80 and beyond, we need to be even more attentive to staying well. So, here are some thoughts about getting through the next few months.
First, for those of you on blood pressure medications, especially if you are over 70, please have your blood pressure checked and review it with your physician. It’s been a common misunderstanding that the magic “120/80” blood pressure is the goal for everyone and that’s just not correct.
That is indeed the desired goal for healthy 20-somethings, but as we age and our arteries harden, we need more pressure to have adequate blood flow to our brains. Unfortunately, some people and physicians still try to have that “ideal” blood pressure, and patients wind up being functionally hypotensive and being more prone to fainting and falling.
It’s my contention that some, if not many, falls in the elderly are a result of their blood pressure being too low.
As far as the relevance of that and summer, we tend to sweat quite a lot more during summer, lowering our blood pressure even further. It makes sense that if the pressure is low to begin with, a further decrease could be dangerous.
We know about the sweat we feel on our skin when we are dripping from being hot, but we also have insensible perspiration, that which we do not notice, from breathing as well as gentle sweating. We lose quite a lot of water during hot days.
So, please carry a full water bottle and drink continuously throughout the day. You want your urine to be a very light yellow. If it’s darker, you are dehydrated. We often get thirsty well after we begin to be dehydrated.
Next, please have your HVAC system checked to ensure that your air conditioning doesn’t go out during our hottest days. It’s bad enough when your electricity goes out, but worse when the AC quits and it may take days to get it repaired. I have recommended that we have our HVAC systems checked twice annually, when we change the clocks in the spring and fall. It’s an easy way to remember to have that maintenance done.
It’s also helpful to remember that part of the way air conditioners work is to remove humidity from the inside air. This is another element in dehydrating us. We spend a lot of time in indoor air conditioning, and breathe dehumidified air.
Then there is sunscreen. Please apply it liberally to your skin, multiple times throughout the day. Lotion rubbed on is generally more effective than a spray. It needs to be repeated after swimming. Texas is No. 2 worldwide in the incidence of malignant melanoma, after Australia, so please be cognizant of adequate sun protection.
Even when it’s cloudy, the sun’s rays can penetrate and burn us.
I suggest a first aid bag in our cars, which would include water. If your car breaks down, having a large thermos with water can literally be a lifesaver while waiting for help. An umbrella to help protect from the sun can be helpful. A battery backup to keep your cell phone charged is also a good idea.
It may also be a good time to check the spare tire in your car, to make sure it’s inflated and in good shape. Not good to find out it’s flat also if you need to change your tire!
Grilling outside can be fun and enjoyable, so let’s make it safe, too. Keep a bowl of water and a small fire extinguisher outside for obvious reasons.
Lastly, if you use a CPAP, or have other electronic devices that need to function, you may want to buy a large battery backup that can power those kinds of electronic devices in the event that the electricity grid goes down.
So, take a few precautions and go out and have a great time this summer!
Alan Koenigsberg, M.D., is a practicing psychiatrist and clinical professor of psychiatry at UTSW Medical School in Dallas.