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Older People at Risk During Heatwave

Authorities have issued health warnings as we continue to experience heatwave conditions throughout Sydney. Temperatures are expected to soar to over 40 degrees putting older people at risk of heat related illnesses ranging from mild conditions such as a rash or cramps to serious and potentially life-threatening conditions like heatstroke.

Factors that increase the risk of heat related illnesses in older people include:

  • Self-care problems – some older people are frail or have reduced mobility making it difficult for them to take adequate care in hot weather.
  • Living alone – there is no one to take care of the older person if they ignore symptoms.
  • Physical changes – the ageing body doesn’t cope with sudden stresses as quickly as a younger body and is not able to cool itself as efficiently as it does for younger people.
  • Chronic medical problems – older people are more likely to have chronic medical problems and certain conditions make them more vulnerable to the effects of heat.
  • Medications – older people with chronic medical problems usually take medications on a regular basis and some can hinder the body’s ability to regulate temperature.

If you have an older relative, friend, or neighbour, here are some suggestions on how you can help during this heatwave:

  • Encourage the older person to be sensible in the hot weather, for example, stay indoors, avoid strenuous activity, wear lightweight clothing, and drink cool water regularly throughout the day.
  • For those at high risk of being affected by the heat, check on them at least twice a day to be sure they are coping. Look for signs of heat stress such as hot and dry skin, dizziness, headache and cramps.
  • If they don’t have air conditioning at home, take them to an air-conditioned place such as a shopping centre or library for a respite.
  • Make sure their home has adequate ventilation. Electric fans cause air movement that helps evaporate sweat from the skin and the body to cool.

If your older relative, friend or neighbour seems to be suffering from heat stress, cool them down promptly. Sponge them with cool water and fan them, get them into a cool shower or wet them with a garden hose and then seek immediate medical help. Don’t hesitate to call triple zero (000) in an emergency.