With certain parts of the UK this week seeing a return of temperatures up to a sweltering 28°C, its important for those who care for the elderly to be mindful of the effect that the hot weather can have on our older population.
Those people who have poor circulation, mental illnesses, heart disease, and are on certain medication (those that can inhibit sweating) are more vulnerable to heat related illnesses such as heat rash, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. The effects of some of these heat related illnesses can be serious, even life threatening.
However, there are simple strategies and advice that can be taken and given when looking after the elderly to help a person stay cool and avoid any heat-related problems in the hot weather. The elderly can stay cool through simple ideas such as taking a cool shower or having a cool wash when feeling hot during the day, and even carrying damp cool flannels, stored with icepacks, when out and about. Resting as much as possible is also important in the hot weather and avoiding the sun at peak times of the day, particularly between the hours of 11am and 4pm, to stay as cool as possible. The choice of clothing can also play an important role in keeping oneself at a comfortable temperature. Loose, light coloured fabrics that reflect the sun and breathable fabrics such as linen and cotton are all beneficial – natural fibres absorb sweat allowing your body to breathe more easily. Additionally, a straw hat can help protect one’s head from the sun whilst out and about, and at the same time allow one’s head to breathe .
It’s also advisable that older people keep the insides of their homes as cool as possible; they can do this through keeping windows open to allow air to circulate easily and keeping curtains closed to stop the sun from warming up rooms – however this is only suggested when curtains are light coloured and not dark coloured as the latter conducts heat and can make a room hotter! The use of fans can also be used to keep a person’s body temperature down.
What we eat and drink can also have a massive effect on whether we suffer from the heat or not. It’s recommended that older people stick to light and cold meals in adverse hot weather conditions.
Dehydration can also be a real concern in elderly people as when a person ages there are certain processes that can increase the likelihood of dehydration, if a person is not properly cared for and cannot care for themselves. On average, regardless of age, we are supposed to drink 8 glasses of water a day to ensure our body is properly hydrated.
Older people can experience a reduced sensation in thirst, this can be exacerbated in those people who suffer from Alzheimers or who have experienced a stroke. Those elderly people with reduced renal function – the kidneys are vital in aiding fluid regulation in the human body – can also experience problems of deyhration. There are also a number of medications which older people may be taking that can increase the chance of dehydration, for example diuretics and laxatives. Or simply there are those who may need more help in taking on board liquids as they are unable to easily feed themselves or/and have easy access to fluids.
Clearly, it’s important to note some key signs of dehydration which can include: dryness of the mouth and lips, sunken eyes, confusion, and inelastic skin. Amongst other symptoms, dehydration can cause a decrease in one’s mental performance, for example, memory and concentration and can also include increased feelings of tiredness, dizziness and potentially low blood pressure.
Ways to help prevent elderly people overcome dehydration include ensuring they have enough drinks, that they are easily within reach and making sure that they can easily get to the toilet without the risk of getting hurt. Increasing the variety of drinks available, ensuring that there is the right type of drinking receptacles available and offering a full drink with any medication can also help. It is also beneficial for those caring for the elderly to consider keeping a record of drinks their client has consumed throughout the day to ensure enough fluid has been taken, particularly on extremely hot days. This type of information can then be effortlessly relayed back to relatives and friends of a client to give them peace of mind during the hot weather; CareLineLive’s Mobile App allows carers to provide live updates on client’s visits through the CareLineLive Family & Friends website . Furthermore, a carer could also consider including more ‘wet’ food within their client’s diet to aid hydration, the following foods are at least 90% water by weight: cucumber, tomatoes, cauliflower, green peppers, cantaloupe melon, strawberries and carrots.
The above provide some ideas and approaches to prevent adverse effects of hot weather on the elderly and can easily be put into practice when the weather heats up.