As temperatures across the UK continue to soar, it looks like we might be in for a period of very hot weather. While we could all use a bit of sunshine and fresh-air just now, it’s really important to stay safe in the sun and take the proper precautions.
Excessive heat can have a serious detrimental effect on people of any age but it’s particularly hazardous for the older generation.
Hot and Bothered
Heat stress occurs when the body can’t cool itself and maintain a healthy temperature. This is an issue for older people because their bodies don’t cope with sudden stresses as quickly or effectively as a younger body. For example, an elderly person’s skin does not produce sweat and cool the body as efficiently as a younger person’s skin.
More significantly heat stress can make existing health conditions worse and particularly those conditions that are common among older people, such as diabetes, kidney disease, and heart disease.
Heat requires our hearts to work harder. In very hot conditions, our blood vessels dilate, increasing our heart rate. For people with abnormal heart function, these hot periods can lead to a worsening of their heart problems. In cases of severe heat stroke heart failure can occur in people without pre-existing heart conditions.
For people with pre-existing kidney disease, dehydration during hot periods can impact their kidney function. So people with kidney disease need to take extra care to stay hydrated during hot periods.
Dehydration can also affect older people’s blood pressure, making falls more likely.
Further, hot weather can affect blood sugar control for people with diabetes. Heat stress can increase blood sugar levels even in people without diabetes, but is most concerning in those with the condition. Poor blood sugar control is associated with many different diabetes complications including increased risk of infections.
Older people with chronic medical problems usually take regular medications. Some medications can hinder the body’s ability to regulate temperature and make people more susceptible to heat stress.
For example, people with heart failure often take diuretic medications to manage symptoms like swelling and shortness of breath. But increasing diuretic medications in hot weather can cause dehydration, worsening heart failure and often affecting the kidneys.
Added to this, heat stress may cause disorientation, confusion and delirium. This risk is more pronounced for older people with cognitive conditions and dementia.
Isolation can magnify the risks associated with heat exposure among older people. Having others around reduces the risk as one person may recognise if another is unwell, increasing the likelihood of them getting medical attention.
How to Stay Cool
Drink plenty of water or fruit juice to avoid dehydration
Drink cool drinks and eat foods with high water content such as cucumbers, watermelons and tomatoes. If you’re going out, remember to carry a bottle of cold water with you and keep drinking throughout the day. Avoid having too much alcohol or drinks with high caffeine content. Dehydration can be dangerous at any time of the year and it’s important to know how to spot the signs.
Stay out of the sun during the hottest times of the day
Stay inside during 11am – 3pm when temperatures are at their highest and we are most at risk. If you have to be outside during these times, try to stay in the shade.
Wear loose clothing
Wearing loose, light-coloured and lightweight clothing will keep you cooler in the hotter weather. Avoid tight jeans and keep the number of layers to a minimum. Remember to wear a hat to protect your head from the sun.
Take cool baths and showers
Cool down by splashing yourself with cold water, or have a cool bath or shower.
Apply sun cream to help protect your skin
Getting sunburn increases your risk of skin cancer, so it’s important to apply plenty of sun cream to protect yourself against UV rays. Use at least an SPF 30 and apply it generously, remembering to reapply if you’ve been in water or heavily sweated.
Keep your home cool
Keep your blinds down to reduce the amount of sun and use an electric fans if possible. Remember – as tempting as it is to open all the doors and windows when it’s hot, keeping the hot air out is the best way to keep your house cool! When the sun has gone down and it’s cooler you can open windows and doors to let the breeze and fresh air in.
Check in on your neighbours
Remember, check on your neighbours and anyone else who you feel may be vulnerable in this weather. Stay safe and seek urgent medical advice if you feel you or a loved one has been affected by the hot weather.
What To Look Out For
Exposure to high temperatures can cause a number of short term effects such as:
- Dizziness and confusion
- Fatigue and exhaustion
Early warning signs for heat stroke include:
- Excessive sweating and pale, clammy skin
- Cramps in the arms, legs and stomach
- Fast breathing or pulse
- Temperature of 38C or above
If you or someone you are with should experience any of these symptoms follow these simple steps:
- Move to a cool place.
- Lie down and raise the feet slightly, using a pillow or other support.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Cool the skin using cool water applied with a cloth or sponge. Cold packs around the armpits or neck are also effective.
- Ask someone to stay with you until you’re better or if you are with someone experiencing these symptoms remain with them until the symptoms pass.
If the symptoms do not pass within 30 minutes seek medical attention by dialling 999. Remember heatstroke can be very serious if not treated quickly.
The summer months are an opportunity for us all to get out and about and enjoy some fresh air and great weather. As the mercury rises just be aware of spending too much time in hot temperatures, stay hydrated, and know where you can access a cool place to cool down if you get too hot.