Taking Care of Elderly Relatives during Hot Weather


In the UK we have a notorious climate. Internationally, our climate is often thought to be too wet and cold, and, while it sometimes is exactly that, we have had our fair share of record-breaking high temperatures, with an air temperature of almost 40o C being recorded in Kent earlier in the year.

During heatwaves (technically1 where the daytime high is 30C and the night-time low is 15C or higher) it may be uncomfortable to many of us – but it can be dangerous for the elderly, the disabled, as well as persons with respiratory conditions and those on multiple medications.

In 2003 a European heatwave was responsible for 35,0002 deaths across multiple countries – with France suffering almost 15,000 deaths alone, but there are ways to beat the heat!

Focusing on caring for the elderly:

Ensure they are drinking enough water.

This will be nothing new to a veteran carer.

As the body sweats during hot weather to cool us down, and as the  salty sweat evaporates in the process,  we lose both water and electrolytes**,;electrolytes are a key component in our nervous system ,and our hydration and electrolyte levels must be in balance. We get most of our salts / electrolytes through what we eat and  water is required to  help replenish our water reserves, maintain the balance with the electrolytes in the body and keep us hydrated and healthy.

Cooling water in the fridge might seem like a perfect idea – but water at room temperature is ideal as the body can only digest and absorb fluids and nutrients at 37.5C.

** Electrolytes consist of calcium, potassium, phosphate and magnesium and are derived from the foods we eat and the fluids we drink; the balance of the electrolytes in the body at any time is affected by the level of water in the body

When it gets really hot and the word ‘heatwave’ keeps cropping up.

For the elderly, those caring for elderly relatives, and especially those who are elderly carers themselves, it is best to avoid the outdoors during peak hours, which are between 11am to 3pm; if one  must go out, one should take every precaution to not be exposed to direct sunlight and make sure that appropriate clothing is worn such as sun glasses, large summer hats and light, cool clothing.

Here are some quick bullet points to help you get a plan of action in place:

·       Get a thermometer in both the bedroom, and the space where your relative spends most of their time.
Thermometers give an instant temperature readout – and you could even ask your relative to contact you if the temperature ever rises above a certain level.

·       If the air temperature is going to rise above 22C, close all windows.
This may seem counter intuitive, but if the air outside is warmer than indoors and hotter than you would be comfortable with – keep this hot air  out! The windows can be  re-opened  when temperatures have dropped outside– eg in the early-to-late evening.

·       Avoid sunlight entering the home entirely.
It’s important to realise the difference direct sunlight has to general air temperature and on surfaces. If you have ever touched a black leather sofa when it has been in the sunor the steering wheel of a car when it has been exposed to the sun, you will notice that they almost burn you. Indoor surfaces exposed to direct sunlight radiate heat throughout the home. Use light-coloured curtains drawn over the windows to reflect heat away from the home, or, alternatively use a suitable and recommended reflective material to apply a temporary heat reflector on the outside of the window.  Keep the house as shaded as possible – and thus cool.

·       If your relative feels too hot, consider a cool shower or bath.
This is a rapid way to cool down and can avoid heat exhaustion – which can lead to heatstroke.

·       To avoid cold water shock, start the shower at the normal warm temperature, then steadily decrease the temperature until it is suitably cold and comfortable.

Sources

[1] https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/heatwave-how-to-cope-in-hot-weather/ | Retrieved 12/07/19

[2] https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn4259-the-2013-european-heatwave-caused-35000-deaths/ | Retrieved 12/07/19