Help prevent heat stress in summer
Summer is a great time to go outside and enjoy the sunshine, but it’s important to stay safe – especially on really hot days.
One risk to be aware of is heat stress. This occurs when your body can’t cool itself and maintain a healthy temperature, which causes a range of health problems. Some of them are mild, such as heat cramps or a rash. Other heat-related conditions – for example, severe dehydration, heat stroke and heat exhaustion – are far more serious.
If you are over 65 years old, you are at increased risk of heat-related illnesses, as older bodies don’t cope with sudden stress as efficiently as younger bodies. You may also be at risk if you take certain medications that impact your body’s ability to regulate temperature, such as anti-depressants, beta blockers, amphetamines, sedatives and diuretics.
If your elderly loved one lives alone or needs help with self-care, it’s important to regularly check in with them during the hotter months, as they may have difficulty taking adequate precautions when the temperature rises to extreme levels.
What are the symptoms of heat stress?
Heat stress symptoms depend on the condition the person is experiencing, but they may include:
- hot and dry skin with a pale appearance
- a rapid heart rate
- muscle or abdominal cramps
- nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
- disorientation, confusion or delirium
- dizziness and light headedness
- a headache
- feeling extremely thirsty
- aggressive or irrational behaviour
- excessive sweating or no sweating with high temperature
- urinating less often
- a very high body temperature
If you are with someone who appears to be experiencing heat stress, cool them down immediately using whatever you have on hand – for example, get them into a cool shower, sponge them down with water, fan the person, remove warm clothing, wet them with the garden hose.
Seek medical help as quickly as possible by calling their doctor or 000. It’s a good idea to have a copy of your loved one’s emergency contact information handy, so you know who to call.
How to avoid heat stress
Being safe in summer doesn’t mean you can’t be active or enjoy the weather. Taking some simple precautions can lower your risk of heat stress, helping you stay cool and comfortable on extremely hot days. Here are some steps you can take.
Pay attention to the weather and plan ahead
Keep up to date with the daily weather forecast – if you have a smart phone, getting a weather app is a convenient way to do this. Temperatures above 37°C are particularly dangerous, so plan not to be outside on those extremely hot days, especially in the middle of the day when the sun is at its hottest.
Dress in clothes that keep you cool.
Lightweight, loose-fitting clothes made from natural fibres such as cotton or linen allow your skin to breathe on hot days. If you are going outside, always apply sunscreen on exposed skin, wear a wide brimmed hat that covers your head and shades your face, and put on sunglasses to protect your eyes.
Check medications with your doctor.
If you take medications, ask your GP if they put you at increased risk of heat-related illness in summer. You may be advised to avoid certain types of medication, or have your dosage adjusted during the hot season.
Drink plenty of water during the day.
To stay hydrated in hot weather, drink a glass of water every hour, and limit your intake of coffee, tea and alcohol, as these beverages can dehydrate your body. Snacks such as fruit can also help you stay hydrated. Also take note of your urine colour, and brown or dark yellow urine is a sign of dehydration.
Keep your home cool.
On hot days, draw your blinds and curtains, keep your air conditioner on (set it to ‘cool’) and make sure your home has enough ventilation. If you don’t have an air conditioner, use an electric fan to move air throughout the room. On extremely hot days, go to an air-conditioned place, such as a shopping centre, to stay cool.
Make sure you have access to a phone or personal alarm.
A power failure during a heatwave can be dangerous. Makes sure you have access to a phone or an alarm pendant that works if the power goes off, so you can always get help as soon as possible in case of an emergency.
Check on your loved one.
If you care for an older person living alone, make sure you check on them regularly in hot weather. Look for symptoms of heat stress, such as paleness, hot and dry skin, headaches, cramps and confusion. People at high risk of heat stress should be checked on at least twice a day. Home Caring’s professional carers can assist with daily check-ins.
Home Caring provides high quality, compassionate care in the home environment. As a Home Care Package and NDIS provider, we do all we can to enhance independence, comfort and dignity. For more information or to arrange a free consultation please get in touch.