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Posted: August 09, 2007

Spousal Caregiving

Beating the Heat, Caregiving Style!

Bill Andrew

As we enter the dog days of summer, it is critically important that caregivers take precautions to protect their loved ones and themselves from the effects of heat and humidity. As I write this, it is in the high 90s here in central Florida with very high humidity. However, Florida is not alone in the heat and humidity this summer. But if you take the right precautions, summer can be a wonderful time full of sunlight, long days, and spousal gatherings.

Try to keep your loved one and yourself cool, safe, and well-hydrated this summer with these quick tips from the website of Strength for Caring, which is sponsored by Johnson & Johnson Consumer Products Company.

Never leave a loved one in an unattended vehicle. This is one of the most important things to remember, given how dangerous it can be, and how often people actually do it. Leaving someone in a car for just five minutes -- while you run to grab milk at the grocery store, for example -- can be dangerous, and potentially fatal. Stopped cars with the windows up can reach temperatures of more than 110 degrees on hot, summer days. Even if the windows are open, the car roof essentially acts as a heat absorber, baking the entire car.

If you absolutely must run into a store quickly and cannot bring your loved one with you, leave them at home with a neighbor. Ideally, bring them into the store with you. It may be more time consuming, but it could save a life!

Dress the part. Some fabrics are meant for summer, so stock up on linen, lightweight natural cotton, and other natural fabrics. Rayon, polyester, and other synthetic fabrics trap heat. They can make you feel sticky and hot. They also contribute to raising your body temperature. Big, floppy hats and white, cotton, loose clothes are popular in hot regions for a reason -- they keep you cool and reflect the sun, rather than absorb it.

As far as the amount of clothing, fewer clothes is not necessarily better. A long linen shirt (lightweight and of a light color, of course) will help protect you from the sun’s strong rays more than a dark-colored tank top which may absorb heat and expose you more to the sun.

Wear sunblock. Wearing sunblock is especially important in the summer; although we get sun exposure year-round, we are more likely to be outdoors for longer on hot summer days. Keep in mind that the sun’s rays can pass through clothing, car windows, house windows, and more -- so remember to protect your whole body!

Use an SPF of 30 or higher on your face and that of your loved one and areas of your body that will be the most exposed (arms, legs, neck, hands, feet, the top of the head if one if bald or has bald spots -- even your ears and the back of your ears). Re-apply every couple of hours, especially if you’ve been swimming or sweating.

Look for products that read "broad spectrum" or "UVA/UVB protection" on their labels. Also, ingredients such as HelioplexTM or MexorylTM can help prevent the sunscreen from breaking down in UVA rays (which can happen after a few hours of UVA exposure, thereby making the sunscreen less effective). Ask a doctor or dermatologist what products they recommend.

Drink water. It is essential to drink water throughout the day, even if you don’t feel thirsty. Coffee, caffeinated tea, and soda are not recommended for hot days. Caffeine is a diuretic and can increase water loss through urination. Alcohol also increases water loss and should be avoided on hot days. If you aren’t a fan of plain water, add some lemon or fruit, or consider eating crushed ice.

Eat light and healthy. Eating salads and fruit dishes in the summer has two advantages: not only are you eating nutritious foods to give you energy, but you’ll keep your house cooler by not using the stove or microwave. Fruits and salads are also high in water content, which will keep you hydrated. Light meals can help you sleep better in the summer as well, and may be digested faster.

Go slow with outdoor activities. When it is too hot or humid outside, it may be best to avoid being outdoors if possible, and to avoid exercising or any strenuous activity. If you are outdoors and want to (or need to) walk, take it easy and listen to your body. Even walking in the park on a hot day can cause extreme amounts of water (in the form of sweat) to leave your body, and can make your body temperature rise significantly. Stay in the shade if you can and go slow, take breaks, and sit on benches even when you don’t feel tired. Make sure you bring bottled water with you (it can be tap water that you put into a portable bottle) wherever you go.

Be cautious of medications and reactions. Some medications increase susceptibility to sunburns or heat rashes. Ask your healthcare professional about any potential reactions to the sun or heat, and take precautions. Many medications act as diuretics and increase water loss through urine. It is especially important to continually re-hydrate if you or your loved one takes such medications. Always carry bottled water on you and rest as often as possible.

Keep your home cool. If you have air conditioning, use it! If you are trying to save energy or keep your bills lower, air conditioning just one room of the house during the day, such as the living room, can be a good idea. That way, you can center all activities for the day in that room. Fans can also provide cool air throughout the house, but depending on the temperature outdoors, they may simply circulate hot air. Keeping the lights low or off during the day can help the house stay cooler. Avoid using the stove and microwave -- these are huge sources of heat. Keep the blinds closed during the day. If your home is still hot, go to a mall, library, or other public place with air conditioning.

Take cold showers or baths. Doing this can keep your body cool for several hours and it feels so refreshing! If you get too hot during the day, turn on a water sprinkler outside and walk through it. If practical, your loved one can do it too! There is a reason kids love to do this -- not only is it fun, but it will keep you cool. Also, keeping a cold washcloth or a towel filled with ice near you, and using it to dab your forehead or neck, can help you stay cool.

Know the signs of dehydration, sun stroke, and heat exhaustion. It is essential to become familiar with the signs and symptoms of dehydration, sun stroke, and sun (heat) exhaustion. Knowing these signs can help you avoid any potential symptoms, and can help you take action immediately if you or your loved one develops symptoms.

With a little precaution and awareness, you and the loved one you care for can have a healthier and safer summer! Not only is it hot in Central Florida, but temperatures have been soaring across the country. Loved ones of spousal caregivers are most at risk! But so is the spousal caregiver! Take care of your loved one and yourself -- beat the heat with these quick tips!

Your thoughts and comments about the above would be appreciated. Drop me a line at and I will share them with other readers in a future column. Please provide your full name and address. In the column, I will only use your first name and the last initial of your last name as well as your city and state.


"I know that God will not give me anything that I can not handle.

I just wish that he did not trust me so much!"

Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta (1910-97)

Bill Andrew identifies himself as a former “nutritionally-empowered Alzheimer’s caregiver” who attributes the slow-down in progression of Alzheimer’s disease in his wife, Carol – and the growth of his own personal emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual capability and strength to provide quality 24/7 care for her in their own home – to the targeted nutritional supplements they both took on a daily basis. Carol went to her Heavenly reward on June 9, 2008 – Bill continues on to advocate for family caregivers. Contact Bill with your caregiving questions and comments via email at

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