Heat in summer: protecting the elderly and those in need of care

Heatwaves are stressful for many people, but they are particularly dangerous for senior citizens. There is no universal temperature that affects all senior citizens to the same extent. After all, the tolerance of heat depends on many factors. As a guideline, however, we can say that prolonged temperatures above 30 degrees can cause serious health problems in people aged 65 and over and, in the worst case, can even lead to life-threatening heatstroke.

Why is heat so much more dangerous for senior citizens?

Heat poses a particular danger to older people as their bodily functions work less efficiently. With increasing age, the body’s ability to regulate temperature changes decreases. Seniors sweat less, which impairs the body’s natural cooling function. In addition, many older people suffer from chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular problems, diabetes or respiratory diseases, which can be further exacerbated by high temperatures.

Medications that are often taken by older people can also affect thermoregulation. Diuretics and antihypertensives, which are used to treat high blood pressure, increase the risk of dehydration as they promote the excretion of fluid. Anticholinergics, which are used to treat various neurological and psychiatric disorders, can further reduce sweat production.

Another problem is that many older people do not realise when they are thirsty and therefore drink too little. This leads to dehydration, which puts additional strain on the body. Social factors also play a role: many older people live alone and have no direct support to react appropriately to heatwaves.

Our tips for hot days:

People feel heat differently. In addition to the air temperature, the “perceived temperature” is also decisive. However, health problems should be prevented during heat warnings, tropical nights, i.e. when the temperature no longer falls below 20 °C at night or when the temperature in living rooms reaches 26 °C or more. The following measures help to protect your health in hot weather:

  • Hydration: It is recommended to drink enough fluids. Seniors should drink water regularly, even if they do not feel thirsty. Light, non-alcoholic drinks such as water, herbal tea or diluted fruit juices are ideal, while alcoholic drinks should be avoided as they dehydrate the body.
  • Cool environment: It is advisable to keep the rooms as cool as possible. The heat in the room can be prevented by airing the room in the morning and evening. Fans or air conditioning systems should be used to lower the room temperature. However, unnecessary electronic devices should be avoided in the rooms as they give off heat. If air conditioning is not available, you can, if possible, spend time in air-conditioned public buildings such as shopping centres, libraries or community centres.
  • Check medication: It is recommended to talk to your doctor about your medications. Some medications may affect the body’s ability to regulate heat or increase the risk of dehydration.
  • Cool showers and baths: Cool showers or baths can help to lower the body temperature. Moistening your wrists, neck and face with a cool, damp cloth can also provide relief. A water spray can also help: Fill a reusable spray bottle with water and spray your relative’s legs and arms.
  • Light clothing: It is recommended to wear loose, light-coloured clothing made of natural materials such as cotton or linen that allow the body to breathe. Headgear and sunglasses should provide additional protection from direct sunlight.
  • Light meals: It is advised to eat light, easily digestible meals such as salads, fruit and vegetables. Heavy, fatty foods should be avoided as they can put additional strain on the body. A broth in the evening provides fluid and sodium – the body also loses this mineral when sweating. Another tip is to make the meals smaller and encourage the patient to eat more often.
  • Social contacts: It is advisable to stay in contact with family, friends or neighbours, especially if you live alone. Regular check-ins could ensure that help is provided quickly if needed.
  • Shady places: Direct sunlight, especially during the hottest hours of the day between 11 am and 5 pm, should be avoided. Seniors also enjoy a shady spot on the balcony or patio – you can provide this with awnings, parasols or sun sails.

What to do in the event of overheating or heat stroke?

Prolonged high temperatures can lead to various heat-related illnesses, even despite great efforts. These illnesses include sunstroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramp, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

If the following symptoms occur, you should inform your family doctor or the medical on-call service immediately by dialling 116 117:

  • Pronounced feeling of exhaustion
  • Restlessness
  • Headache, stiff neck
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cramps or pain in the muscles
  • Elevated temperature or fever

In the event of loss of consciousness, severe shortness of breath or very high or low blood pressure, the emergency services should be called immediately on 112 – these symptoms can be signs of life-threatening heatstroke.

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