Who Is Most Vulnerable To Heat-Related Illnesses?
With the hot weather that we’ve all been experiencing recently, it’s more important than ever to understand how to keep your elderly relative comfortably cool when the mercury rises. It might seem counter-productive to assume that anyone could suffer ill-effects from hot weather in this country, yet the recent spate of sunshine showed that it’s certainly a possibility, so it’s crucial to have a good understanding of the impact that heat-related illnesses can have, particularly on vulnerable elderly people.
Who Is Most Vulnerable?
Anyone can be adversely affected by spells of hot weather, but this is a particular concern if your relative has poor circulation, as they won’t be able to sweat sufficiently to cool themselves down effectively. The same goes for people with mental illnesses and heart disease. Additionally, some prescription medicines, including blood pressure tablets and heart pills, are known to inhibit the sweating reflex, leaving your relative at risk of becoming feverish or weakened.
What Are the Symptoms?
Heat rash is usually one of the first signs of heat-related illnesses and should never be ignored. Keep an eye out for any signs of skin irritation, which could take the form of redness, small red spots or even blisters, which can arise from excessive sweating.
Heat stress can cause your elderly relative to have a headache, although it may cause them to feel faint or sick too. Check their pulse – if this is weak, this is another sign of heat stress that needs to be addressed urgently.
Heat exhaustion is particularly serious. Look out for signs that your loved one is becoming uncoordinated, as this could be a sign that they are becoming too hot. Weakness and dizziness are further signs of a problem, along with profuse sweating, cold and clammy skin and nausea or sickness.
Heat stroke is a life-threatening condition and needs to be addressed urgently by a doctor. Look out for confused behaviour, fast and shallow breathing and faintness, especially when combined with a rapid pulse. At this stage a seizure is possible, so swift action is imperative.
What Short-Term Measures Can I Take?
Obviously, it’s important to make sure that your relative stays out of the sun, applies generous amounts of sunscreen and keeps hydrated with plenty of drinks. But even the clothes that they wear can have a real impact upon their core temperature. Lightweight cottons are best in hot weather, so avoid synthetic materials and select styles that are pale in colour and with a looser than normal fit.
If your relative’s house is particularly hot and stuffy, then it may be advisable to take them out to somewhere cooler, whether that’s to an air-conditioned indoor space or somewhere near the sea or a river perhaps, where you might be able to find a cool breeze.
Offer to help out with gardening and household chores to prevent your loved one from tackling too many chores in the heat, and make sure that they keep as rested as possible, as exertion will only make them feel worse.
What Can I Do in the Long Term?
Consider installing fans, or even air conditioning, in your loved one’s home, particularly if their house has a tendency to become too warm in the summer months.
Make sure that your elderly relative has a good supply of sun cream and encourage them to use it daily, with frequent top-ups, to limit skin exposure to the sun, which can result in skin cancer.
If you have the available resources, a holiday abroad somewhere cooler than normal makes for an interesting break from the usual routine and allows your relative to escape from the worst of the hot weather.
Be prepared for hot weather well in advance to ensure that your loved one doesn’t fall prey to heat-related illnesses during hot spells.