Elderly People and Heat Wave
Why are elderly people more at risk during heat waves and in hot Summer ?
First of all, elderly people are sometimes weakened by chronic diseases, losing their autonomy and under medication. This implies that they will take longer to adjust to the heat and react to the weather very differently than young people.
Physicaly and due to their respectable age, elderly persons have an impaired heat perception, less effective sudation glands as well as little thirst sensation .
On top of that many elderly people often suffer from renal disfunctions, which require to be monitored as their electrolytes balance is more difficult to be maintained.
So in the event of a heat wave, elderly persons must be checked upon regularly and assisted in their daily lives. The immediate family or the persons in charge should increase the number of their visit and verify the following points:
- Ensure that the elderly’s home temperature remains cool. Close the blinds, air conditionned the house is important.
- Avoid that the eldersly person goes out during the warmest hours of the day and rather do errands early in the morning or in the evening.
- Ensure that the persons hydrates regularly and eats a well balanced diet. Priviledge frequent sips or small glasses rather that a lot of water at the same time. The cumulative total of ingested fluid should exceed 1.5 liter. Alcohol should be avoided and ice cold drinks or food as well.
- If the heat is intense, one should think of refreshing the elderly person by increasing the frequency of showers or supplying the person with mist sprays of water to be used on the face or the body whenever necessary.
Also, in some cases, the persons in charge of the elderly person should call the doctor following the elderly persons to see if their medication list has to be amended due to an exceptional heat wave. Some medication could have indesirable side effects when the temperatures are high. Therefore it is important to reevaluate the whole medication list to ensure the elderly person is well provided.
Studies have shown that the European heat wave of 2003 had been responsible of 70’000 deaths. Luxembourg had 14,3% more elderly persons deceased than in normal years. The only country which got spared more than the others was the United Kingdom. For more details : http://www.lemonde.fr/planete/article/2007/03/23/la-canicule-de-l-ete-2003-a-fait-plus-de-70-000-morts-en-europe-selon-l-inserm_886917_3244.html
Heat waves since then have been a preoccuaption of all European Health authorities to avoid extra suffering, discomfort or serious complications which can be prevented with a proper planning and a greater public awareness.