Beat the heat: summertime tips for older people
Expert forecasters claim 2014 could be the hottest summer on record, so we’ve put together some top tips to ensure you can help keep your loved ones comfortable during the heat wave.
Forecasters say Britain is on course for scorching temperatures this summer with extreme ‘heat spikes’ pushing the mercury into the 80s or higher, all the way until the end of August. Experts claim there is a seventy-five per cent chance that we are on course for record sunshine which could put even last year’s searing temperatures into the shade.
We’ve put together a handy list of warning signs and simple precautions you can take to help keep your loved one safe during the soaring heat this summer.
Top tips to stay happy and healthy this summer
Often it’s a case of common sense but taking simple precautions can make a dramatic difference. We’d recommend you take the following steps in order to help your loved one beat the heat:
- Stay out of the sun: avoid the heat and encourage your loved one to keep out of the sun during the hottest part of the day (11am – 3pm) and if they are outside then seek out shaded spots. Make sure to use sunscreen protection of at least SPF 30 or higher, and don’t forget to regularly re-apply it.
- Drink plenty of fluids: Good nutrition and adequate fluids are especially important for older people in the hot summer months. You should encourage your loved one to drink regularly throughout the day, even if he or she doesn’t feel thirsty. Older people should avoid caffeine and alcoholic beverages as much as possible as they accelerate dehydration -choose water instead.
- Dress sensibly: choose light-coloured, loose-fitting, and light-weight clothes in order to maintain a normal body temperature and be sure your loved one is wearing a hat if they do go outdoors.
- Cooling off: having a cool area in your loved one’s home will be very beneficial. Make sure the home’s cooling device – whether it’s an electric fan, a portable air conditioner or central AC – is working properly. You can keep rooms cool by using shades or reflective material outside the windows. If this isn’t possible, use light-coloured curtains and keep them closed (metallic blinds and dark curtains can make the room hotter).
What are the dangers of over-exposure to the heat?
During summertime older people are particularly prone to health complications – they don’t ‘feel the heat’ the way younger people do which can mean they’re less aware of the onset of heat-related illnesses. The risks include dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke.
The body is over seventy per cent water so it’s essential to stay hydrated during the summer months. People aged 65 and older can lose their sense of thirst, and tend to not drink enough – older people need to be drinking 1.5 to 2 litres of water to avoid dehydration.
Older people have less ability to perspire, which is a mechanism to release heat from the body. In addition, many older people have chronic health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease, and may take medications that can make them more susceptible to dehydration and can cause increased sensitivity to sunlight. Severe dehydration can become life threatening to the elderly because there is no longer enough fluid in the body to carry blood to the organs.
Characteristic symptoms include: feeling thirsty and light-headed, confusion, having dark-coloured, strong-smelling urine, passing urine less often than usual (less than three or four times a day), dizziness or light-headedness, headache, tiredness and dry skin, mouth, lips or eyes.
Older people who are dehydrated should drink water to replenish fluids and be moved to a cool place to lie down and rest.
Heat exhaustion is a non-life-threatening condition caused by loss of salt and fluid from the body that results from prolonged exposure to extreme heat.
Characteristic symptoms include: headache, blurred vision, nausea, upset stomach, ashen appearance, low blood pressure, vomiting, sluggishness, fatigue, thirst, rapid weak heartbeat, profuse sweating and moderate increase in body temperature.
If you think your loved one is exhibiting the symptoms of heat exhaustion it’s imperative to take action to cool him or her down:
- Move him or her to a cool, dry place to lie down and rest.
- Loosen or remove clothing and ensure the person gets plenty of ventilation
- Apply cool water to the skin and fan the wet skin. Applying ice that is wrapped in a towel to the head, neck armpits and groin areas can help to bring down the body temperature.
- Encourage him or her to drink plenty of cool water – the water should be cold, but not iced. Electrolyte drinks, such as sports drinks, are also good for someone experiencing heat exhaustion.
Heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke which is a life threatening condition and requires immediate medical attention. Heat stroke occurs when the body cannot cool itself, usually because sweating stops and the body’s core temperature becomes too high. Conditions like obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, as well as taking some medications commonly prescribed to older people can all contribute to the increased risk of heat stroke.
Characteristic symptoms include: headache, dizziness, elevated or lowered blood pressure, disorientation, agitation, confusion, sluggishness, fatigue, seizures, hot dry skin, fainting, loss of consciousness, muscle cramps, increased body temperature (40°C or higher), rapid heartbeat or breathing and hallucinations.
Always call an ambulance in cases of suspected heatstroke. While you are waiting for the ambulance to arrive, NHS Choices advises the following:
- Move the person to a cool area as quickly as possible
- Increase ventilation by opening windows or using a fan
- Give them water to drink (if they are conscious), but do not give them medication, such as aspirin or paracetamol
- Shower their skin with cool, but not cold, water (15-18°C)
- Gently massage their skin to encourage circulation
- If they have a seizure (fit), move nearby objects out of the way to prevent injury (do not use force or put anything in their mouth)
- If they are unconscious and vomiting, move them into the recovery position by turning them on their side and ensuring their airways are clear
These simple tips should help keep your loved one cool this summer. However, they are not intended as medical advice and you should always seek medical attention if you’re worried. You can find out more about the symptoms and treatment of heat-related illness here.