Summer is a great time to live in Australia, with plenty of public holidays, natural beauty and warm evenings for the whole family to enjoy.
But it can also be a high-risk time for the senior members of our community – especially on days when temperatures reach well above 30 degrees. People with reduced mobility, chronic medical problems (especially kidney conditions) or who live alone may be at risk of experiencing heat-related health complications over the summer months.
If you are a senior, or caring for a loved one who is elderly, here are some tips to ensure everyone has a safe and happy summer break.
Drink lots of water
It’s one of the most basic pieces of health advice for a reason: stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water – at least 6 to 8 glasses a day, even if you don’t feel thirsty or aren’t being active.
Drinking water throughout the day not only keeps your body temperature cool, but replenishes any fluid lost through sweating. If you don’t enjoy the taste of water, try adding some interest with a slice of lemon. A couple of cubes of frozen berries and mint leaves in a jug of water can also be a lovely treat in the warmer months.
Watch out for heat-related illnesses
As we grow older, our bodies don’t regulate temperature as efficiently as they used to. This means people aged 65 and over are at increased risk of heat-related illnesses, especially on extremely hot days.
One condition to watch out for is heat exhaustion, which occurs when the body is unable to cool itself. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include:
- paleness and sweating
- a rapid heart rate
- muscle cramps (usually in the abdomen, arms or legs)
- nausea and vomiting
- dizziness or fainting
If you think you or a loved one is suffering from heat exhaustion, go to a cool area, rest, remove outer clothing, increase fluid intake, wet the skin with cool cloths and seek medical advice.
Know the warning signs for heat stroke
Heat stroke is a far more serious than heat exhaustion, and can be life-threatening if left untreated. The symptoms for heat stroke are slightly different from heat exhaustion. They include:
- a rapid pulse and fast, shallow breathing
- trouble speaking, slurred speech
- problems concentrating or coordinating movements
- dizziness, confusion, seizures or loss of consciousness
- sudden rise in body temperature
- hot and dry and possibly red skin, possibly with no sweat
- dry, swollen tongue
- nausea or vomiting
If you think someone is suffering from heatstroke, treat it as a medical emergency. Lower their body temperature any way you can and call triple zero (000) straight away. Do not give paracetamol or aspirin, as this may make things worse.
Avoid being outside during the hottest parts of the day
The hottest part of the day is usually between 11am and 3pm. To avoid heat exhaustion, plan your day so you are indoors during that time, and try to relax instead of being busy. If you want to leave the house, try visiting a place with air conditioning, such as a public shopping centre, the cinemas or the public library. If you must be outside, try to stay in the shade as much as possible.
Be sun-safe when you are outside
When you go outdoors, take steps to protect yourself from both the heat and the sun’s harmful UV rays. You can do this by:
- using sunblock with at least SPF30+, even on cloudy days
- wearing a wide-brimmed hat
- carrying a light umbrella as portable shade
- covering exposed skin with lightweight, loose clothing
- staying under the shade as much as possible
- wearing sunglasses to protect your eyes
Cool your home
Keep your house as cool as possible to prevent over-heating during summer. You can do this by opening security-screened windows at night to let in the breeze, avoiding using the oven, turning on the fans and drawing your curtains during the hottest part of the day so the sun doesn’t shine through your windows and heat the house up. Home Caring’s housekeeping services can help you keep on top of this; just chat to your carer about your needs.
It’s also worth using your air conditioner, if you have one, when temperatures soar. While it is tempting to keep the air-con off to save money, your health is much more important than your power bill!
Make sure you dress appropriately for hot weather by sticking to light, loose fitting clothes in materials that can breathe (e.g. natural cotton) and avoidingcolours like black, which can absorb heat. If your loved one needs help doing this on a daily basis, our Elderly Care services can help.
If you start to feel the heat, an easy way to quickly cool down is to take a cool bath/shower, or place a damp, cold washcloth on the back of your neck or face.
Don’t overdo it
Now isn’t the time to tackle the gardening, clean out the garage or go for a bushwalk! During hot days, especially between 11-3pm, keep strenuous activity to a minimum, drink plenty of water and do something restful instead. While exercise is important, it’s best to leave physical activity to the cooler parts of the day, such as early in the morning.
It’s worth thinking ahead when it comes to staying cool in summer. Stay in touch with the weather forecast through your TV, radio or a phone app and website like Weatherzone. If a heatwave or high temperatures are predicted, consider how you will keep your house cool, check your air conditioner is working, and reschedule any plans that are planned for outdoors. Make sure you have a back-up plan if there is a power failure. Is there someone you can call, a family member or friend you can visit, or a place you can escape to?
Eat cool foods instead of hot
It goes without saying that hot meals like roasts and pasta bakes will not only heat up your house when cooking, but heat up your body as well. Stick to healthy and easy-to-prepare cool foods such as fresh fruit, salad, sandwiches and wraps (and, of course, keep up those fluids!) Chat to your carer about how you can ensure these meals are ready when needed.
Check in on others
If you have a loved one, neighbour or friend who is elderly and living alone, take the time to check in on them and ensure they are coping well in the heat. If you are worried about how your loved one may fare at home on their own, now might be the time to consider home caring, which offers peace of mind over summer.