Dealing with heat exhaustion and heatstroke
Because older people are vulnerable to overheating and dehydration, they are also more susceptible to heat-related complications.
Heat exhaustion occurs when someone becomes 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.
If you feel uncomfortable in warm weather or you think you might be showing signs of a heat-related illness, there are some quick steps you can take to cool down:
- move out of the sun into a cool, shaded area
- if indoors, close the curtains or blinds
- get a cold drink
- wipe your forehead with a cool flannel
- use a fan (if available) take off any bulky clothing.
If you think you’re suffering with heatstroke or hyperthermia, dial 999 immediately and take measures to try to cool 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 in warm temperatures, make sure that you:
- 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 you’re likely to be exposed to direct sunlight
- stay in the shade where possible.
If you’re in a wheelchair, you can get an umbrella or sunshade that can prevent exposure to direct sunlight.
Home adaptations to combat the heat
There are some permanent changes you can make to the home which can help to keep it at a comfortable temperature.
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 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 buy an air conditioner on Which? Home & garden.
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 you 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 electric heaters guidance on Which? Home & garden – although they’re focused on keeping you warm, some heaters also have cool settings. For full reviews and recommended Best Buys for combined hot and cool heaters, Which? members can log in to our Best Buy electric heaters.
Smart thermostatic devices
These can help reduce the temperature of your 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.
Check out the Which? Home & garden guides on smart thermostats for more information.
Linked temperature alerts
If you're caring for someone, especially if you live some distance away, you might find it helpful to install a home telecare system with built-in temperature controls. You can set them to send an alert to a call centre and/or you when the temperature rises above your pre-set parameters. Setting these upper and lower limits with your loved one's individual circumstances in mind is always a good idea. So, for example, if you’ve 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 or friend to suggest they turn the heating down and, if necessary, also alert you or other named carer or a healthcare professional to ensure your loved one gets the help they need.
Temperature risk management
Being exposed to extreme temperatures can be distressing, especially if you have mobility issues or health concerns. 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, depending on how tech-savvy you are, via the television, a computer, smartphone or tablet. If you realise that temperatures are going to rise imminently, simply being aware of it can help you prepare.
Use our checklists to review the basic safety aspects of your home – such as lighting, heating, power and furniture.
Today there are many clever gadgets and tools available to help older people stay safe and independent at home.
Find out how smart technology can be used to make your home more secure and help you stay independent for longer.