Heading out to the beach on a beautiful summer day is a dream come true. Humans are drawn to the water, and exposure to sunshine, fresh air, water, and nature has exceptional benefits for our physical and mental health. Unfortunately, too much exposure to these things can be problematic. For older adults, many of these risks are more significant, so it’s critical to practice good beach safety for older adults.
The risks associated with overexposure to UV rays from the sun have been made clear in recent years. Most people already know how dangerous it is to spend too much time in the sun without proper protection.
Older adults are more prone to skin damage or melanoma. According to an article by the Skin Cancer Foundation, older adults have experienced more damage to their skin over the years, which diminishes their resistance to various types of sun damage. Sun protection is very important for anyone spending time outside, but it’s even more important for older adults. Unfortunately, according to the CDC, less than half of older adults protect their skin when they go outside.
So, what can you use to keep your skin protected?
- Sunscreen: The foundation of good skin protection while out in the summer sun is sunscreen. Your sunscreen should be SPF 30 at minimum, but stronger protection is better. Apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes before heading out, and reapply it every 2 hours.
- Protective clothing: Covered skin is safe skin, so protective clothing is recommended when applicable. If you’re headed out to the beach on a hot summer day, you don’t want to be wearing a heavy sweater and pants—these are heat stroke risks. Light, breathable fabric will do the job, and one of the best ways to protect yourself from the sun is with a hat. A wide-brim hat, for example, will keep your face and shoulders in the shade.
- Umbrella: Bring a beach umbrella to sit under when you’re relaxing outside of the water. This gives you an area to cool off, reapply sunscreen, and grab a snack and a drink. It keeps your exposure balanced and offers a safe space to relax.
Spending time in and on the water has been proven to be beneficial for our physical and mental health—older adults are no exception. However, the water and sunshine can also be dangerous.
Older adults are more prone to dehydration due to having a diminished thirst response—they often don’t feel thirsty even when they’re becoming dehydrated. Their medications may also dehydrate them more quickly than normal. While spending time outside on a hot day, make sure older adults have easy access to cool drinking water in order to prevent dehydration. Bonus—it will help them stay cool and comfortable!
Being an older adult doesn’t automatically mean someone is weak. However, even healthy young adults can drown in the right circumstances. If you’re headed to a beach on the ocean, the risks are significant. Open water is turbulent—rogue waves, cold water, toxic algae, etc. This doesn’t mean older adults shouldn’t have the opportunity to enjoy it, but it does mean that the ocean should be respected for the deadly force it is.
Some ways to stay safe while swimming include:
- Short bursts: Swimming expeditions should be done in short bursts. Head into the water for 15-30 minutes at a time to limit the opportunity for physical fatigue that could make it difficult to keep your head above water.
- Swim buddy: Never swim alone—go in pairs or as a group so that you always have someone watching out for you. When you swim with others, they can get help sooner once they notice there’s a problem and you need help.
- Lifeguard tower: Set your seating area up near the lifeguard tower and swim in the same area. Being closer to the tower means being closer to assistance in an emergency—they can see you more readily and will have a shorter distance to cover to get to you.
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