Seniors at greatest risk during heat waves

Seniors at greatest risk during heat waves

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Carers advised to know the signs of heat stroke in older people. Image Sydney Morning Herald.

Carers advised to know the signs of heat stroke in older people. Image Sydney Morning Herald.

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People over the age of 75 and particularly older women, are especially at risk from hot weather, particularly if they have recently had an infection.

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People over the age of 75 are especially at risk from hot weather with older women and those who have had a recent infection in greatest danger.

That is the warning from University of Queensland's Associate Professor Christine Brown Wilson .

“Care-givers should ensure older people have access to cool drinks within their reach and encourage them to eat light snacks with fruit and vegetables that contain water," she said.

“Another good idea is to encourage older people to put a damp loose cotton cloth or scarf on the back of their neck, and spray or splash their face with cold water frequently.

“They should be checked on daily during excessively hot weather.”

“It’s important to be aware of the danger symptoms that older people may display,” Dr Brown Wilson said.

“These include confusion, feeling faint and/or dizzy, being short of breath or vomiting.

“Heat stroke can kill, and knowing what to do in an emergency situation is critical.”

As temperatures soar in many parts of the country, Southern Cross Care (WA) has also warned of the dangers of the heat.

"The elderly and frail in our community often do not realise when they are dehydrated,” said CEO Errol Turner.

“Staff in our facilities operate under strict procedures to ensure our clients drink fluids regularly, but for family and friends who provide care at home this is a time to be extra vigilant.”

During a heatwave it is vital to monitor fluid intake to ensure you drink cold drinks regularly, such as water and fruit juice. Tea, coffee and alcohol should be avoided. Carers should also make sure the older person has a phone that will work during a power failure.

SCC advises the following tips to help carers look after older people during a period of extreme heat:

Keeping cool

  • Keep rooms cool; check that windows are shaded. If safe to do so, ventilate rooms late at night when it’s cooler
  • Consider moving people to a cooler room; top floor accommodation in particular is quickly affected by heat rises
  • Avoid the heat: advise older people to stay out of the sun, especially between 11am and 3pm
  • Check that fans and air conditioning work properly, and encourage clients to use them
  • Advise older people to reduce their level of physical exercise
  • Encourage older people to take regular cool showers or baths, and splash cool water on their face, back and neck. A damp cloth on the back of the neck helps temperature regulation
  • Encouraging older people without air-conditioning to go to venues during the day that have air-conditioning

Medication

  • People should continue to take prescribed medicines during periods of extreme heat
  • Certain medications can contribute to the onset of heat related conditions, such as sunburn and heat stress

Eating and drinking

  • Older people may not always be able to tell when they are thirsty so encourage them to drink water regularly
  • Encourage them to eat smaller meals more often during hot weather
  • Check that freezers and fridges are in good working order

Clothing and aids

  • Ensure older people wear light cotton clothing and a hat when going outdoors
  • Older people should always wear sunscreen, even if they only go outside for a short time, as their skin is much thinner and can burn easily
  • Ensure sunglasses are worn outdoors
  • Check that wheelchairs, walkers and other metal equipment that may be used by an older person do not become hot to touch, as this can cause a burn
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