How to keep your elderly parent cool in hot weather
You wouldn’t think it possible that your parent could be too hot in British weather yet with the rising temperatures we’ve been experiencing it’s good to be aware of the way heat can affect the elderly and how to help them stay cool.
Who is most vulnerable to heat-related illness?
If your parent is prone to poor circulation, has a mental illness or suffers with heart disease they could be more susceptible to the heat as their body won’t be efficiently sweating and cooling down. Certain medicine prescriptions such as heart and blood pressure pills can also inhibit sweating which can often leave your parent feeling weak or feverish.
What are the symptoms of heat-related illness?
Heat rash, heat exhaustion and heat stroke can all affect an older person’s health in different ways. While the first signs of heat-related illness can be easily treated, symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke could potentially be life threatening especially for those who’re advanced in years.
Heat rash – If your parent’s skin is showing signs of irritation including redness, red spots or small blisters due to excessive sweating it could be heat rash.
Heat stress – Headaches, feeling sick or faint and a weak pulse can all be signs of heat stress or fatigue.
Heat exhaustion – If your parent is lacking coordination or seems dizzy and weak it could be that their body is sending out warning signals that they’re too hot. Symptoms of heat exhaustion also include cold and clammy skin, profuse sweating and sickness.
Heat stroke – This can be potentially life-threatening if not dealt with swiftly by a medical professional. Your parent’s body temperature will have risen dangerously high and their body will no longer be able to cool itself down. They can become confused and behave strangely, feel faint with a rapid pulse and their breathing may become fast and shallow. Seizures and comas can be possible in extreme cases.
If you’re concerned that your parent is showing signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke it’s best to call their doctor, district nurse or the emergency services as soon as possible to prevent your parent’s condition worsening.
What are the short-term solutions?
Aside from the obvious advice around ensuring your parent’s hydrated, shaded from the sun and applying copious amounts of sun cream to protect their skin there are certain short-term solutions you can put in place to prevent your parent from over-heating.
Getting your parent out of the house in a heat-wave may sound ill-advised but for those of us whose parent’s homes become somewhat stifling in the summer months it could be nice for them to be outside in the fresh air for a feel of the breeze. Taking them somewhere that has air-conditioning like a leisure centre or hotel lobby can also help to take edge off the heat and you can treat them to lunch out while you’re there.
If your parent’s an avid gardener or intent on always keeping the house spick and span it may be a good idea to offer your help with housework or weeding to ensure that your parent avoids strenuous activities - especially during the hottest part of the day (11am-3pm).
Older eyes can take longer to adjust to rapid changes from light to dark - wearing sunglasses can help. If your parent’s eyes are exposed to bright sunlight throughout the day it could lead to trips and falls while out and about or even when coming indoors as their eyes will take a while to readjust to the dimmer level of light.
Suggesting a shopping trip for a new summer wardrobe for your parent could be a chance to get them out of the house and find them some clothes suitable for warmer weather. Avoiding synthetic fabrics and sticking to light-weight cottons can help to keep your parent cool. Buying loose fitting clothing in pale colours can also help to reduce skin irritation caused by over-heating.
What are the long-term solutions?
If your parent’s particularly affected by hot weather it may be a good idea to have air conditioning or fans installed in a room in their home that’s frequently used or perhaps has poor air-flow. Their bedroom could be a good place to start as disturbed sleep due to heat can lead to sleep deprivation and lack of energy during the day.
Depending on your parent’s mobility and willingness to travel it may be a good idea to do a “reverse-migration” and plan a trip to colder climates as the British summertime kicks into full swing. A holiday with the family could provide your parent with some welcome company as well as relieving them from day-to-day chores and give their body a break from the hot weather.
While your parent may not have a strict skin care routine getting them to use a moisturiser with sun protection factor (SPF) in it can help to protect their skin from harmful UV rays excessive exposure to which can cause skin cancer. They can top up with sun cream if they’re planning to be out in the summer sun for a long period of time.
Public Health England has issued a Heatwave Plan outlining how they’re going to protect people from heat-related health issues in 2014.
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