Summer and winter safety and elderly

A very complex set of processes within our bodies works constantly to keep our body temperature within the normal range.

This is usually considered to be 36.8ºC, although it can vary normally by a degree either side of this.

However, as we age, our bodies tend to function less efficiently and body temperature is one aspect of this is that older people’s body temperatures can be less efficient at responding to changes in temperature.

The problem can be magnified if an elderly person has mobility, heart or breathing problems.

So, it is especially important to keep an eye on elderly people when temperatures, either in summer or winter reach extremes.

At the time of writing this year’s long-running summer and unusually high temperatures are being predicted to continue into October making it important to continue checking on elderly neighbours and relatives.

Indications that someone is struggling to cope with heat and perhaps at risk of heat stroke include an extremely high body temperature, hot and dry skin, lack of perspiration, rapid strong pulse, throbbing headache, dizziness, and nausea. This condition usually requires medical attention.

The slightly milder condition of heat exhaustion produces symptoms including heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, weakness, tiredness, dizziness, headache, nausea and vomiting, breathlessness (fast or shallow breathing), variations in pulse rate and fainting.

There are plenty of simple things that can be done to minimise the effects of extreme heat for the elderly.  They include making sure that they drink plenty of fluids such as water, tea or coffee and fruit juice and staying out of the sun at the hottest part of the day. However, fruit juices can be high in sugar so you should take care that they are not drinking too much of them. The recommended limit is 150ml per day.

Keeping rooms cool and shaded is also recommended, so keep blinds and curtains closed, especially on the sides of their home that gets the most sun at the hottest past of the day, when windows should also be kept closed. A cool shower or bath can also be refreshing.

At the other extreme, winter cold can also cause more problems for the elderly, again particularly when they are less mobile, and for much the same reason that their bodies cannot adjust as quickly to temperature changes as younger people’s can.

Cold weather can increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, flu, pneumonia, falls and injuries and hypothermia.

Again, older people need to be checked regularly to ensure that they are keeping warm with the temperature at home kept to at least (65F) and should be encouraged to have the annual flu jab as protection.