High temperatures and the scorching sun are a challenge for everyone. And for the elderly, the warm weather that we have seen over the past couple of weeks can pose a particular threat to their health and even their lives.
That is why it is important to prepare for the hot weather days and know what to do if it turns into a longer spell of summer heat.
The recent hot spell got us thinking about some of the things to consider when looking after elderly relatives during the summer months.
Risks to the elderly during the summer months
Higher temperatures during the summer months can affect elderly people quite considerably as their defence mechanisms against heat i.e. sweating and breathing become less effective. Over time our respiratory system, a weaker heart and the atrophy of our sweat glands all contribute to being less able to cope with heat.
Some of the basic risks to the elderly during the summer include:-
Body dehydration can be extremely dangerous to the elderly. It can manifest itself with a reduction in kidney function, fatigue, headaches, dizziness and nausea. As well as an increase in body temperature and increase in heart and breathing rate.
Heat stroke or overheating of the body can be another serious risk to elderly people. It can cause unconsciousness and even loss of life.
Typical symptoms include:-
- feeling very hot to the touch
- red and dry skin
- feeling thirsty
- dark circles below the eyes
- nausea and vomiting
Increase in blood pressure
The hot weather can have an impact on your blood pressure. The average normal body temperature is around 37 °C but can vary from person to person. During hot weather as your body temperature rises then so can your blood pressure.
Top tips for keeping elderly people safe during the summer months:-
An obvious one to consider, but clearly one of the most important. If you don’t take in in sufficient fluids during the day it can be dangerous for anyone, and the elderly are no different.
An adult should consume 2 to 3 litres of drinks on hot days. It is important that the fluids are administered in small doses – little and often is the recommended approach. Apart from water, cool fruit teas without sugar and natural fruit juices diluted with water and electrolyte preparations dedicated to the elderly are a good option.
Try and avoid caffeinated and alcoholic drinks which can lead to quicker dehydration. The best thing to do is stick to plain water wherever possible.
Keep your house and room cool
Elderly people often spend lots of times at home, perhaps even in one single room. So it is important to ensure that space is as cool as possible.
You can do this by:
- keeping the curtains blinds or shades closed during the warmest times of the day
- opening your windows at night although making sure you do this safely
- consider investing in a good fan
- wherever possible limit the use of things in your house that create it for example the oven and tumble dryer
- avoid keeping the lights and other electrical items on unless you have to
Wear appropriate clothing
If the weather is hot then make sure you’re wearing appropriate clothing. Tips for this include:
- Choose lightweight fabrics to stay cool in the heat.
- Where you can select lighter colours.
- Wear looser fitting clothes.
- When you leave the house it is essential you wear a hat. A lightweight cotton cap or a linen / straw hat will protect your head from the sun.
Consider any medication you are taking
Take care with any medication you are taking from stop firstly, make sure they’re not going to cause any hill effects in the heat but also importantly that you are keeping them stored in a safe place that is not exposed to extreme heat which may compromise them or make them degrade more quickly.
If you have any concerns about how you may react to your medication in the heat, then you should consult your doctor or pharmacist.
Taking care with exercise
Something to be wary of as an elderly person during the summer months is overexerting yourself. It’s important to stay active of course but be extremely careful not to exercise too much in the heat, especially the extreme heat.
Use UV sunscreen
The sun is generally strongest between 10am and 5pm, so if you do need to leave the house with an elderly relative then it is a good idea to use UV sunscreen. Use a high UV value sun block as elderly people’s thin skin is more prone to irritation and sunburn.
Schoolchildren are well versed in the saying “slip – slop – slap”. Slip on a shirt, slop on some sun block and slap on a hat
If you have any questions or concerns about keeping you or an elderly friend or relative safe during the warmer summer months, then one of our Weymouth care home team would be happy to chat to you and answer any questions you may have.
Feel free to call Peter Fry on 01305 78 78 11.