Top tips to keep older people cool in heat

It’s been a long winter, but, but now we’ve hit the hot weather and this can present a risk to health for older people, who can be particularly susceptible to heat-related illness

Top tips to avoid heat-related illness

  • Persuade your elderly relative to stay out of the heat and not to spend long periods sitting, or working outside during the hottest time of the day, usually between 11a.m. and 3 p.m.
  •  If they do go out,they should wear a hat and stay in the shade as much as possible
  • If  travelling by car or public transport, it’s a good idea to take a bottle of water to keep hydrated
  • Your ageing parent should avoid strenuous activity in the heat and limit activities like housework and gardening to the early morning, or evening, when it tends to be cooler
  • Inside their home, it really does help to keep curtains and blinds closed in rooms that catch the sun, as light generates heat
  • If it is safe, your parent could leave a window open at night when it is cooler. Fans can help sweat evaporate, but do not cool the air itself
  • Encourage your parent to wear loose, lightweight, light-coloured, cotton clothing and to take regular cool baths, or showers
  • Splashing their face with cool (not very cold) water, or placing a damp cloth, or scarf on the back of their neck will help them cool off
  • Heat exhaustion can have the following symptoms: headaches, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, pale skin, heavy sweating and a raised temperature.If your parent has any of these symptoms, you should find a cool place and loosen tight clothes
    drink plenty of water or fruit juice, sponge them with cool water or get them into a cool shower
  • Heatstroke can develop if heat exhaustion is left untreated,but it can also develop suddenly and without warning. The symptoms  include hot and red skin, headaches, nausea, intense thirst, a high temperature, confusion, aggression and loss of consciousness. Heatstroke is a life-threatening condition, so if you are worried, call 999 immediately

Eating and drinking in the heat

  • Make sure your parent drinks lots of fluid, even if they are not thirsty
  • Try to get them to rely less on drinks with caffeine in them, such as tea, coffee and drink water instead
  • Ideally, they should avoid alcohol, as it can make dehydration worse
  • They should eat normally, even if the heat depresses their appetite, as they need a normal diet to replace salt losses from sweating
  • Cold foods are good to eat, particularly salads and fruit, as they contain a lot of water
  • Extreme heat and dry conditions can cause dehydration and overheating
  • Be aware that muscle cramps in the arms, legs or stomach, mild confusion, weakness or sleep problems are all signs of possible dehydration

Looking after your parent’s skin in the sun

It is very important to ensure that your parent’s skin is not exposed to the sun for long periods, as this can lead to sunburn and potentially, the risk of skin cancer.If you have moles or brown patches on your skin, they usually remain harmless. However, if they bleed, or change size, shape or colour, show them to your parent’s GP immediately. Also check your parent’s back for them, as many skin cancers on older people go unnoticed, because they cannot see them themselves

  • Whenever they go in the sun, they should use sunscreen of at least sun protection factor (SPF) 15 , applying it generously and topping up regularly if they are  outside for a while
  • They must remember to apply it to ears and any bald patches. Wearing a hat makes a big difference
  • They should also wear sunglasses to protect their eyes, ideally ones with a CE mark and UV400 label, so that your parent know they give 100 per cent UV (ultraviolet) protection
  • They should also use a moisturiser, which can help keep their skin from excessive dryness
  • They should not forget, however, that some sun is good for all of us and it is essential to get out into the light for the production of Vitamin D. To supplement Vitamin D, which the government recommends for people over 65, it is a good idea to eat salmon, mackerel, eggs and fortified margarine

For more information, visit Cancer Research UK SunSmart campaign

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