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Follow our practical tips to make sure your relative is prepared for periods of warm weather, and reduce the risk of heat-related health problems.

On this page you will find information on:
1. Why staying cool is so important for older people
2. What are the symptoms of heat-related illnesses, and how can you deal with them?
3. How to keep cool when out and about
4. How to keep cool at home

Why staying cool is so important for older people

As we age, our bodies become less adept at regulating temperature and hydration, because our biological systems gradually become less efficient. For example, one of the key ways the body cools itself is through perspiration, and older people typically sweat significantly less than younger people.  Our bodies also begin to store fat differently.

People with existing medical conditions, including breathing or heart problems, can experience exacerbated symptoms when their body temperature rises. The problems can be more serious for people with conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, where they may not be able to recognise that they are too warm and react appropriately. This can also lead to oversights around the home, including leaving the heating turned on and not opening windows to let cool air in.

All of these factors make it very important for you to ensure that your relative is protected against the risks associated with high temperatures.

What are the symptoms of heat-related illnesses and how can you deal with them?

Because elderly people are vulnerable to overheating and dehydration, they are also more susceptible to heat-related complications.

Heat exhaustion occurs when a person has become too hot very quickly. Symptoms include extreme thirst, tiredness, headaches and dizziness.

Heatstroke (also known as hyperthermia) is a more serious condition usually preceded by heat exhaustion, and requires immediate medical assistance. Signs that someone is suffering heatstroke include unusually high body temperature, disorientation, a lack of perspiration and, in more serious cases, seizures and even coma.

Whether your loved one is simply feeling uncomfortable in warm weather, or you think they might be showing signs of a heat-related illness, there are some quick steps you can take to help them cool down:

  • Ensure they are out of the sun and in a cool, shaded area.
  • If indoors, close the curtains or blinds.
  • Get them a cold drink.
  • Wipe their forehead with a cool flannel.
  • Use a fan (if available) to help them cool down.
  • Help them take off any bulky clothing that might be making them warm.

If you think your loved one is suffering with heatstroke or hyperthermia, dial 999 immediately and take measures to try to cool them down until support arrives.

How to keep cool when out and about

To avoid distressing situations like the ones above, it’s good to prepare ahead. If you’re going to be out and about with a loved one in warm temperatures, make sure that they:

  • are dressed appropriately for the weather, wearing airy, light clothing, preferably made of cotton
  • are wearing light-coloured clothing and high-factor sun cream if they are likely to be exposed to direct sunlight
  • stay in the shade where possible.

If your loved one is in a wheelchair, you can get an umbrella or sunshade that can prevent exposure to direct sunlight.

How to keep cool at home

Sometimes a change in routine can be helpful when the temperature rises. Here are some ways to help your relative to stay cool at home.

1. Stay hydrated: It’s important for your loved one to stay well hydrated, so help them maintain their fluid intake throughout the day (taking into account any recommendations from your relative’s GP around medication and ailments).  

2. Eat healthily: A good diet can help keep the body working efficiently. If your relative is eating healthily and regularly, it can help with temperature regulation.

3. Conserve energy in high temperatures: Ensure they aren’t expending too much energy at the hottest times of day. If they can organise their activities at times when the temperature is cooler, it can help to prevent issues.

4. Take a cool shower: When the evenings are warm, preparing for bed with a cool shower or bath can help your relative to reduce their body temperature and feel more comfortable before they settle down.

5. Choose the right bedding: Wool duvets are usually the best for maintaining temperatures. When it’s warm, wool lets air pass through, which can help to prevent overheating and discomfort.  When it comes to bed sheets and pyjamas, cotton tends to be cooler and more comfortable than other synthetic materials.

Home adaptations

There are a number of ways to help your loved one keep cool in the summer months when the temperatures can rise suddenly and unexpectedly.  

Here are some permanent changes you can make to the home which can help to keep it at a comfortable temperature.

Improving ventilation

Adequate ventilation in the home can make a big difference in the summer months. Naturally, if very little cool air passes through the household, it can become stuffy and uncomfortable. You can take measures to ensure your relative’s windows are easy to open, including installing hooks on handles.

If it’s already cooler inside than it is outside, it may actually be better to keep the windows closed until the temperature levels off.

Installing air conditioning

It’s unlikely that anyone would need an air-conditioning unit all year round in the UK, and getting a permanent unit installed can be very expensive. You can get portable air-conditioning units that plug into the mains, but these still need to pump warm air outside, usually through a hose leading through a hole in the wall. This means they aren’t always the most convenient or affordable option.

Find out more about how to find the best air conditioning units. (Note: Which? no longer test air conditioners due to these devices being in low demand in the UK.)

Cooling fan units

Many fan heaters also have a ‘cool’ setting, meaning it will be fit for purpose throughout the year. Make sure the unit is easy to use and that your relative can comfortably reach the controls. The only downside is that fans don’t actually generate cold air. They simply recirculate air around the room. This means that if the room is already at high temperature, it may not make that much of a difference.

For more information, read the Which? home and garden electric heaters advice guides - although they are focused on keeping you warm, some heaters also have cool settings, so these articles are of value. For full reviews and recommended Best Buys for combined hot and cool heaters, Which? members can log in to our electric heater reviews 

Temperature risk management

It can be very concerning if circumstances lead to your relative being exposed to extreme temperatures, so having systems and processes in place can provide peace of mind.

It’s always a good idea to stay up to date with the weather and, depending on how tech-savvy your relative is, they may prefer to check using a computer, smartphone, tablet or the television. If they realise that temperatures are going to rise imminently, simply being aware of it can help them prepare.

There are numerous other ways you can reduce the risk of issues around high temperatures, including home-automation devices and services.

Smart thermostatic devices

These can help reduce the temperature of the home without needing input. They can automatically adapt when the outdoor temperature increases significantly.

Some systems allow you to create presets specifically for periods of warm weather, and others also measure the outside temperature and make changes automatically to compensate.

For more information, check out the Which? home and garden advice guides on smart thermostats. If you would like to see full reviews showing the best options available, Which? members can log in to our smart thermostat reviews hub.

Linked temperature alerts

Some telecare systems have built-in temperature controls. You can set them to send an alert to a call centre when the temperature rises above your pre-set parameters. Setting these upper and lower limits with your relative’s individual circumstances in mind is always a good idea. So, for example, if they have typically had problems with leaving the heating on, it may be better to set a lower ‘highest temperature’ threshold.

The call centre can then contact your relative to suggest they turn their heating down and, if necessary, also alert carers or healthcare professional to ensure your loved one gets the help they need.

Find out more about telecare systems.

More information

Medical problems and medication management: advice on vision and hearing problems, dealing with incontinence and prescription management.
Assistive technology for older people: find out about electronic products and systems to help older people stay self and well.
Keeping warm in cold weather: low temperatures can cause health problems too. Read our tips on making sure your relative stays warm and comfortable in cold weather. 

Page last reviewed: December 2016
Next review due: May 2019