When it comes to seniors’ health, we all want easy answers. But sometimes, senior health can be complicated for seniors and senior care providers alike. Take sunshine, for instance. One day, you might read that sunlight’s beneficial for seniors, providing a range of benefits to their physical and mental health. On another day, you might read that sunlight is harmful to the elderly, putting seniors at risk for a range of conditions. The fact is that there are both benefits and dangers to sunlight for seniors.
Sunlight Linked to Healthy Bones, Mood & Sleep
Sunlight has been linked to a range of health benefits, some of which are particularly important for seniors. Most of these benefits are related to vitamin D. Human beings are only able to produce Vitamin D naturally through exposure to the sun.
Healthy levels of vitamin D carry a range of benefits for seniors that include stronger bones, better mood, improved cognition and cardiovascular 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.
Sunlight Carries Risk of Skin Cancer
The biggest danger of sunlight is skin cancer. Skin cancer and sunlight are linked due to radiation from ultraviolet (or UV) light. Overexposure to UV light is the most significant risk factor for skin cancer.
Finding a Healthy Balance
With the benefits and dangers of sunlight for seniors, it can be tough for senior care providers to find a healthy balance. Unfortunately, there’s no clear medical consensus on where the line between safe and unsafe exposure to sunlight lies. There is some scientific evidence that even a small amount of UV exposure can increase your risk of skin cancer. But many medical professionals believe that the benefits of small amounts of sunlight far outweigh the slight increase in cancer risk.
A good guideline to follow is to ensure that seniors receive 5-10 minutes of sunlight 2-3 times a week. This is the amount that is needed to produce healthy levels of vitamin D.