With the mercury rising this summer and temperatures are expected to soar, it's easy to get caught up in all the fun of summer. However, while you might be looking forward to enjoying these blistering days at the beach or relaxing with friends, they can be a challenge for many vulnerable people, including the elderly, according to the NHS.
Our expert tips will help you to keep mum or dad safe in the current heatwave.
Why are the elderly so affected by high temperatures?
We all know – through a tough workout or a relaxing holiday – that we sweat when we're hot; it's one of the body's most important thermoregulatory mechanisms, reducing some of our heat energy as the sweat is evaporated off hot skin. In order to heat the skin, our bodies pump more warm blood towards the surface, via dilated blood vessels. This is where the trouble starts: elderly people's blood vessels don't dilate as well as those in young people and they also have a slower response to changes in temperatures. This can lead to their heart straining to pump the same amount of blood as in a young person.
What is the impact of this?
Hyperthermia refers to a range of illnesses that are specifically associated with heat; however, these are not the only effects of the hot weather:
- Heat Stroke/Stress: characterised by a body temperature rising to 40oc or above, created by dehydration causing the body's thermoregulatory mechanisms to fail. It is a serious concern as it can cause confusion and dizziness.
- Heat Exhaustion: defined by symptoms such as nausea, headaches, dizziness and weakness.
- Heat Tetany: the uncontrollable contractions of muscles which can be caused by intense heat. It is often experienced as spasms in the hands or a tingling sensation; however, another major type is heat cramps, experienced as major muscle pain due to spasms in large muscles such as the abdomen.
- Swelling (also known as edema): caused by the large quantities of fluid accumulating in parts of the body, which can be uncomfortable and painful.
- Chronic illnesses: most significantly, those concerning the heart and kidneys. These are not directly caused by heat but can be exacerbated by it – heart conditions can be intensified by the strain of pumping blood around the body, while kidney conditions can be aggravated by dehydration. These conditions in turn may also increase an individual's chance of getting hyperthermia.
How to prevent heat-related illnesses in your elderly relative
While Outside: AgeUK suggests a range measures you (and your loved ones) can take to limit your sun exposure including:
- Be prepared: Check the weather forecast so as not to find yourself in any unexpected situation. When planning day trips, it's an idea to see if there is any air-conditioning at your destination or air-conditioned locations close by that you retire to if needs be.
- Be aware of time spent in the sun: It's also a good idea to avoid exposure during the hottest times of the day (11am to 3pm).
- Wear sun cream: Simple but effective, you should also take care to cover the whole body properly and reapply sun cream during the day.
- Stay hydrated: Carry a bottle of water!
While at home: the NHS highlight a few ways you can make your loved one's home a bit more comfortable during the heatwave:
- Close windows and shades: Contrary to popular belief, it is better to keep blinds and windows closed when it is really hot outside. In addition, placing reflective or light materials outside the windows will help reflect sunlight away from the house.
- Cool baths are not particularly enjoyable, but are useful for cooling down. Alternatively, cool water can just be splashed over you or sponged onto the skin.
- Light meals that can be pre-prepared are ideal during the summer as your loved one won't have to spend a long time in a hot kitchen.
What to do if your loved one is showing signs of a heat-related illness
Heat stroke is often the first stage of hyperthermia and will mostly lead to the other, more serious heat-related illnesses. Therefore, it is crucial to be able to recognise its symptoms: nausea, headaches, confusion, dizziness and notable changes in pulse, breathing and sweating. Checking on your elderly relative is therefore especially important in hot weather; if you can't pop in as often as you would like, ask a friendly neighbour to call in.
If you identify heatstroke, you can help your elderly relative by removing excess clothing and lying them down in a cool place; ideally in a cold bath or with ice packs on the neck and armpits, however wet cloths will also work. You should also give them water or an electrolyte drink to help cool them down. According to the NHS, this should take around 30 minutes and you should call an ambulance if symptoms persist longer.
To find out more or to discuss your care needs or those of someone you love in the
Tunbridge Wells, Tonbridge and Sevenoaks areas
call 01732 447 055 or 01892 575 499