Caution: protect your aging loved ones in the heat
An aged care doctor has warned people to look after their senior loved ones this Summer, with those over 65 particularly at risk on hot days. Dr Tim Ross provides advice on how you can help.
Stifling hot days can be tough for everyone, but older people are at an even greater risk of heat related illnesses, especially if they live on their own, are frail, or have medical conditions.
Bupa Aged Care Director of Medical Services Dr Tim Ross says that while heat is a part of life in Australia, it still needs to be taken seriously – especially for those in their senior years.
“Heat is one of the most underestimated dangers for older Australians and it needs to be respected,” he says.
“It’s a particular concern for those aged 65 or older who can’t necessarily regulate their body temperature as well and often have a lower fluid intake.”
There are a range of simple things people can do which can reduce the impact of heat.
It’s important to dress appropriately and avoid wearing multiple layers, long sleeves or long pants, even if that’s what they would normally wear.
Daily walks outdoors or time in the garden should also be avoided until the cooler weather returns.
“It’s important to stay hydrated with water or cool drinks, avoiding caffeine and alcohol, and try to keep houses as cool as possible by keeping blinds and curtains closed. Use fans or cooling where possible,” says Dr Ross.
Older people can sometimes have difficulty recognising when they’re thirsty, so encourage them to drink regularly, unless their doctor has advised them otherwise.
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If you know of any seniors living alone, make sure you check in on them on hot days. Make sure they’re drinking enough water and keep an eye out for any changes to their behaviour or physical condition.
“It may be a good idea to bring an older relative around to your house if you have air conditioning, to help them out,” says Dr Ross.
If you don’t have access to air conditioning at your house or theirs, consider spending the day in an air-conditioned library, shopping centre, or movie cinema.
Some medications can make elderly people more prone to heat stress or sunburn, so make sure that if they do head outside, even for a short period of time, that they cover up and wear sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses.
If they seem to be experiencing heat stress, try to cool them down as quickly as you can. Try a cool shower or bath, or use a cool, wet towel on their neck and underarms.
“If you or any of your relative’s experience distress, don’t hesitate before seeking further medical help or calling 000 and requesting an ambulance,” says Dr Ross.
Don’t forget to look after yourself too. On hot days, make sure you drink plenty of water to keep hydrated, stay out of the sun as much as possible, and if you do have to spend time outdoors, don’t forget a hat, protective clothing, sunblock and sunnies.