With summer in full swing, older adults are spending more time outdoors. After all, the feeling of the sun on your skin is wonderfully restorative!
Remember slathering yourself in baby oil before heading to the beach?
Older adults grew up at a time when the average ultraviolet (UV) exposure was lower and the benefits of sun protection were not well understood. To help guide you in the right direction for sun protection, consider the following facts.
The Good: Older Adults and Sun Exposure
Sunlight has been linked to a range of health benefits, some of which are particularly important for seniors. The health benefits of sunlight include:
- Generating the production of vitamin D
- Supporting bone health
- Helping cognition
- Lowering blood pressure
- Disease prevention
- Promoting good mental health.
Exposure to sunlight is also linked to improved sleep patterns in seniors. Our natural sleep schedule is heavily influenced by sunlight, so a lack of exposure to the sun can trigger insomnia or irregular sleeping patterns.
As people age, they synthesize vitamin D less efficiently. While supplementing is a good strategy for some, most of these benefits are linked to vitamin D that is produced naturally through exposure to the sun.
The Risk: Sunlight and Skin Damage
Aside from concerns about sunburns, there are other conditions triggered by prolonged sun exposure that older adults need to keep in mind during the summer months.
It’s a case of too much of a good thing. The effects of too much time in the sun is called photodamage or photoaging and it begins in the teens to early twenties. Symptoms include:
- Pigmentation changes such as age spots, liver spots (solar lentigines) and freckles
- Loss of skin tone (decreased elasticity)
- Rough, uneven skin texture
- Broken capillaries (spider veins), usually around the nose and chest
- Redness and blotchiness
Too much sun exposure also increases the possibility of UV damage, which can sometimes lead to skin cancer. While skin cancer is the most common cancer in Canada, both the incidence and mortality rates are highest in older Canadians.
Many reasons can be attributed to this. The important point is that both suntans and sunburns have the potential to harm our skin’s DNA, which can have negative consequences. Further, this could result in the genetic errors responsible for skin cancer. Just five sunburns over your lifetime more than doubles your risk of developing melanoma. Each consecutive sunburn further increases the overall risk. This means that getting serious about sun protection is essential for your health and wellbeing.
Sun Protection Reminders
When weighing the benefits and risks associated with soaking up the rays, it is important to find a healthy balance.
According to experts, seniors should aim for 10 – 15 minutes of sunlight 3 times a week. This is the amount that is needed to produce healthy levels of vitamin D. To offset the possible damage caused by over-exposure, follow these simple reminders to help keep your skin healthy at any age.
Plan Your Summer Fun to Avoid Peak Hours
To reduce the harmful effects of UV rays, check your local weather before heading out. When the UV Index is 3 or higher, protect your skin as much as possible. In general, the UV Index in Canada can be 3 or higher from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. between April and September, even when it’s cloudy.
Aim to garden or play outdoor games in the morning. Or go for a walk after dinner instead of during midday.
Apply sunscreen when you’re going to be in the sun
Of course, avoiding the sun entirely isn’t a practical solution, especially for older adults. So, when you do spend extended periods of time outside during the day, be sure to use sun protection.
Most dermatologists will recommend using SPF 30, which blocks 97% of UVB rays. Protect your skin from UVB and UVA rays by using a sunscreen with broad-spectrum protection. Follow the directions on the bottle to use the appropriate amount of product and reapplying it often.
Wear protective clothing
Wear a hat and long sleeves. If you’ll be sitting in the sun, consider wearing pants, too. Look for a lightweight but dense weave fabric, which offers more protection. Some clothing comes with SPF built right in. If you need some fashion tips for your summer wardrobe, click here.
Eyecare increases in importance with age. The elderly can be more prone to developing eye problems, especially those related to exposure to UV rays. Choose UVA/UVB sunglasses to protect your eyes from both types of rays.
Summertime at All Seniors Care Living Centres
At All Seniors Care, we love summertime! Whether you prefer to relax on your private balcony or enjoy one of the many activities happening on our patios and beautiful outdoor spaces, we take your sun safety seriously. So much so that we incorporate it into our holistic approach to wellness. This involves teaching residents about self-care, preventive measures, and the necessary steps to ensure a healthy mind and body in all phases of their life.
Keep an eye on our News and Events Page – the 4th Annual 2022 All Seniors Care Ultimate Backyard Summer Camp just around the corner! That means spending time with friends and enjoying warm sunshine and outdoor games.
If you are unsure of how to best help an aging loved one enjoy the summer, the trained and compassionate staff at All Seniors Care are here to help.
There are plenty of other ways that we are redefining senior living and making retirement more enjoyable. If you’re interested in joining one of our homes or suggesting that someone you know join us, you should click on the links to get more details about our Hamilton residences and other seniors residences near you.
Writer – Julianna McLeod
Julianna is a health and wellness expert at All Seniors Care. Her mission is to create content that empowers seniors to form sustainable solutions for lasting health and happiness. She is an experienced writer, editor, and Recreational Therapist living in Toronto.