Why staying cool is important for older people
As we get older, our bodies become less efficient at regulating temperature and hydration. For example, older people typically sweat significantly less than younger people which makes it harder to cool down quickly.
People with existing medical conditions, including breathing or heart problems, can experience more severe symptoms when their body temperature rises. The problems can be more serious for people with conditions such as 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 important to ensure that you’re protected against the risks associated with high temperatures.
How to keep cool: out and about & at home
Being exposed to extreme temperatures can be distressing, especially if you have mobility issues or health concerns. 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.
If you need to go out and about in warm temperatures, make sure that you:
Choose the best clothes for hot weather. That means wearing airy, light clothing, preferably made of cotton. You'll also want to pick light-coloured clothing if you're likely to be exposed to direct sunlight. And don't forget a high-factor sun cream.
Stay in the shade where possible
Your best bet to avoid heat stroke and heat exhaustion is to say in the shade as much as you can. If you’re in a wheelchair, you can get an umbrella or sunshade that can prevent exposure to direct sunlight.
It’s important to stay well hydrated, so make sure you top up your fluid intake throughout the day. (If you’re caring for someone, take into account any recommendations from their GP around medication and ailments.)
Conserve energy in high temperatures
Ensure you aren’t expending too much energy at the hottest times of day. If you can organise your activities at times when the temperature is cooler, it can help to prevent issues.
Take a cool shower
When the evenings are warm, preparing for bed with a cool shower or bath can help to reduce your body temperature and feel more comfortable before you settle down.
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. Find out how to choose the best duvet.
Heat exhaustion and heatstroke symptoms
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.
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 whether it's worth buying an air conditioner on Which? Home & garden.
Using a heater to keep you cool
Although it may sound counterintuitive, many fan heaters also have a ‘cool’ setting, meaning it will be fit for purpose throughout the year. 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
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 5 things you need to consider before you buy a smart thermostat on Which? Home & garden
Temperature alerts for carers
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. This can be set up to monitor the temperature in the home and to send an alert to a call centre and/or to you if the temperature rises above or below a pre-set level. 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 to ensure your loved one gets the help they need.
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