Most of us enjoy the warmer weather, but it can be difficult for older people to cope and keep well as the temperature rises.
Older people seem to be more at risk during a heat wave. If they have respiratory problems, cardiac problems, dementia, a physical disability or are bed bound the risk also increases. This could be due to them having fewer sweat glands, but also because they often live alone and can be quite isolated having no one to get them drinks and check they are having enough fluid. In one hot spell in London in 2003, deaths in people over 75 rose by 60%.
Often older people do not want to drink if it means they have to get up to use the toilet more often, they may forget to drink unless reminded or walking to get a drink and carrying it back to their chair may be difficult.
There are some important but simple things that we can help and remind older people to do to reduce the risk of dehydration and heat stroke.
- The most important thing is to ensure that people have enough fluid to prevent dehydration. At least 1.5 litres a day is needed. This can come from water, tea, milk, juice, soup, jelly, sauces, ice lollies, fruit, salad or anything else that has high water content. The consequences of becoming dehydrated are severe confusion, weakness, low blood pressure, increased heart rate, clammy skin, urine infections and poor skin integrity which increases the risk of pressure sores. It can lead to a hospital admission to be rehydrated by being put on an intravenous drip. Leave drinks for people who are on their own and ensure they are within reach or try offering ice lollies or jelly as a more interesting alternative. Monitor the amount the person is drinking by keeping a record.
- If the person is in a south facing room, keep curtains or shutters and windows closed until the temperature outside is lower than inside. Use an electric fan to help reduce the temperature and keep air flowing
- Avoid unnecessary physical exertion
- Encourage the person to dress in light clothing
- Have a cool bath or shower if possible or use a flannel to sponge down in cool water to reduce body temperature
- If you have an older family member or neighbour if possible make sure someone (family, friend or neighbour) is able to pop in at least once a day.
- Avoid going out in the sun. If they must, always wear a wide brimmed hat and use sun block, keep skin covered and stay in the shade. Do not stay out for more than 20 minutes.