Keeping cool during a heatwave

During heatwaves the elderly and people in care settings are at particularly high risk of illness and death. So it is important that you know what actions to take to keep safe from high temperatures.

Severe heat is dangerous to everyone. During a heatwave, when temperatures remain abnormally high over more than a couple of days, it can prove even more dangerous.

During heatwaves the elderly and people in care settings are at particularly high risk of illness and death. So it is important that you know what actions to take to keep safe from high temperatures.


Heatwaves – The elderly and those who require care

A lot of the time the elderly and those who require care are more a risk of illness and death due to severe heat.

There are some factors in particular which increase an individuals risk during a heatwave. These include:

  • Older age: especially those over 75 years old, or those living on their own and who are socially isolated
  • Chronic and severe illness: including heart conditions, diabetes, respiratory or renal insufficiency, Parkinson’s disease or severe mental illness. Medications that potentially affect renal function, sweating, thermoregulation or electrolyte balance can make this group more vulnerable to the effects of heat
  • Inability to adapt behaviour to keep cool: having Alzheimer’s, a disability, being bed bound, too much alcohol
  • Environmental factors and overexposure: those living in a top floor flat are higher risk

During a heatwave the chances of developing heat exhaustion and heatstroke are obviously, alot higher. Heat exhaustion and heatstroke can be extremely dangerous for anyone, but in partciular the eldery. Sometimes other heat-related illnesses such as respiratory and heart problems may occur.

The above high-risk groups can be affected during any heatwave so it is important extra care is taken when we are expeirencing one.


What are the risks?

The main causes of illness and death during a heatwave are respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Additionally, there are specific heat-related illnesses including:

  • Heat cramps – caused by dehydration and loss of electrolytes, often following exercise
  • Heat rash – small, red, itchy papules
  • Heat oedema – mainly in the ankles, due to vasodilation and retention of fluid
  • Heat syncope – dizziness and fainting, due to dehydration, vasodilation, cardiovascular disease and certain medications
  • Heat exhaustion – is more common. It occurs as a result of water or sodium depletion, with non-specific features of malaise, vomiting and circulatory collapse, and is present when the core temperature is between 37oC and 40oC – left untreated, heat exhaustion may evolve into heatstroke
  • Heatstroke – can become a point of no return whereby the body’s thermoregulation mechanism fails. This leads to a medical emergency, with symptoms of confusion; disorientation; convulsions; unconsciousness; hot dry skin; and core body temperature exceeding 40oC for between 45 minutes and eight hours. It can result in cell death, organ failure, brain damage or death.


What can those caring for someone do?

Here is some simple advice and easy tips for everybody when it comes to keeping cool, comfortable and reducing health risks:

  • Drink regularly, preferably water or fruit juice, but avoid alcohol and caffeine (tea, coffee, colas)
  • Wear light, loose cotton clothes to absorb sweat and prevent skin irritation
  • When you can take regular cool showers or baths
  • Eat cold foods, particularly salads and fruit with a high water content
  • The use of an electric fans may provide some relief, if temperatures are below 35°C
  • Close the curtains that receive morning or afternoon sun.


Care professionals should make as much use as possible of existing care plans to assess which individuals are at particular risk, and to identify if any extra help they might need. You need to plan ahead to ensure that care and support for people at risk can be accessed in the event of a heatwave. Anyone in a high-risk category who is living alone is likely to need at least daily contact, whether by care workers, volunteers or informal carers.

It is worth noting that:  For older people with long-term or serious illness, mobility problems, or severe mental illness, those who are on certain medications, or those living in accommodation that is hard to keep cool, may need extra care and support.



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