When it comes to helping our residents achieve comfort in the British weather, we’re not often talking about the heat! The Great British weather is better known for causing problems for the elderly in the winter. However, at our North Devon and Somerset care homes we are often spoilt with warm sunny weather during the summer months. It’s essential that family and carers also know how to keep the elderly comfortable and safe in hot weather.
During last summer’s heatwave, there was a notable spike in the number of deaths. Worryingly, the elderly were most at risk. With ageing comes greater difficulties adapting to hot weather. There are various factors which affect an older person’s ability to cope in the heat:
In addition to physiological changes due to ageing, there are other factors which can also increase an elderly individual’s risk in hot weather. For example, if someone struggles with dressing or undressing, they may have difficulties regulating which clothing they wear. Or a dementia sufferer may become confused about their clothing routine. For those with mobility problems, they may struggle to move to somewhere cooler.
The predominant problems which accompany hot weather include heat fatigue, heat stress, heat exhaustion and heat syncope. There are additional concerns associated with sun exposure, such as sunstroke or sunburn.
The symptoms of heat exposure are outlined by the NHS. Symptoms to look out for include headache, fatigue and nausea. In addition you should be alert for dizziness, loss of appetite, fast breathing, a rapid pulse and excessive or absent sweating.
Nonetheless, the summer and the warmer weather can be safe, and indeed enjoyable, with a little care and planning.
The aim should always be to make the individual comfortable and keep them away from excessive heat exposure where possible.
Most obviously, elderly individuals should be enabled to be in the coolest place, out of the sun. This particularly applies between 11am and 3pm when the sun is at its hottest. Outdoors, in the shade is fine, especially if there is a cooling sea breeze as we sometimes enjoy at our Minehead home. However, remember that the individual may need prompting to move as the sun does, or to come inside. Keep blinds and curtains closed during the heat of the day.
Offer non-alcoholic and non-caffeinated drinks at regular intervals and encourage them to sip them frequently. Whilst water is an excellent option, you may have more success encouraging the individual to drink a fruit juice or squash, perhaps with some ice. You may also find that offering ice lollies are an ideal way for your loved one to cool down whilst increasing their fluid intake.
As well as paying attention to drink, consider the food that they are eating. Cold dishes which are rich in salads and vegetables can help, as well as provide further sources of fluid. Our chefs at Eastleigh create wonderful summer menus.
Help and encourage the elderly individual to have tepid baths or showers. However, do remember that they may chill quickly too, so care should be taken. Alternatively, they may benefit from a cool damp flannel which they can wipe around their face and neck. If showering or bathing is difficult, then an individual can be helped to cool down by placing their feet in a bowl of cool water.
Give advice regarding the best clothes to choose for the weather. This may involve helping the individual to choose loose cotton layers.
Lastly, if possible, arrange for your loved one to benefit from fans or a portable small air conditioning unit. However, again remember to check on them regularly that they aren’t getting too cold.
As in many scenarios, providing the care your loved one needs to stay safe in the heat takes time and thought. A good residential care home will be highly aware of the additional needs of their residents during the warm weather, and ensure that all are safe and well-cared for.
Come and see for yourself how residential care can transform the daily life of your family member, and ease the pressure on you. We have care homes in North Devon and Somerset and would welcome the opportunity to show you how ‘summer-friendly’ our homes are.