Heat waves – dangers to elderly and infirm people
Health Warning Issued 18/07/13
Why is a heat wave a problem?
The main risks posed by a heat wave are: dehydration (not having enough water) overheating, which can make symptoms worse for people who already have problems with their heart or breathing heat exhaustion heatstroke.
Who is most at risk?A heat wave can affect anyone, but the most vulnerable people in extreme heat are: older people, especially those over 75 babies and young children people with a serious chronic condition, especially heart or breathing problems people with mobility problems, for example people with Parkinson’s disease or who have had a stroke people with serious mental health problems people on certain medications, including those that affect sweating and temperature control, people who misuse alcohol or drugs, people who are physically active, for example labourers or those doing sports.
Advice for a heatwave
- Shut windows and pull down the shades when it is hotter outside.
- If it’s safe, open them for ventilation when it is cooler.
- Avoid the heat: stay out of the sun and don’t go out between 11am and 3pm (the hottest part of the day) if you’re vulnerable to the effects of heat. (Source: www.nhs.uk)
Many people, especially the elderly, experience mobility problems. We tend to concentrate on physical issues such as difficulty in walking or bathing. There are of course some excellent mobility aids to help people, not only to find basic tasks easier, but, very importantly, to retain independence. One person, having previously been confined to the ground floor but had invested in a stair lift, made the poignant comment “I have got the other half of my house back.” If mobility is difficult because of breathing problems, a heat wave can result in serious complications.
Heat can be a problem for people with COPD. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is not a disease in itself but the name given to conditions where you find it difficult to breathe in and out due to long term damage to your lungs. It includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema but not chronic asthma. In normal lungs, the network of tubes or ‘airways’ that transport air deep into your lungs, become gradually smaller, ending in tiny air sacs. When air reaches the air sacs, oxygen passes into your blood. At the same time, unwanted carbon dioxide transfers into your blood and is expelled when you breathe out. If your airways are damaged, it is harder for air to flow in and out of your lungs and so difficult for you to get enough oxygen. Damage occurs in response to harmful substances and usually starts with inflammation. If the inflammation lasts for a while, permanent changes start to take place. The walls of the airways become thickened, the airways are narrower and so breathing becomes more of an effort. In chronic bronchitis, inflammation results in overproduction of mucus in the airways and formation of phlegm that blocks your airways and makes you cough. Many people with COPD have chronic bronchitis and emphysema. In emphysema, the damage also affects the air sacs. They lose their elasticity, which makes it difficult to keep the airways open and for air to get in and out of your lungs. With fewer air sacs working properly, the transfer of oxygen into your blood and removal of carbon dioxide is restricted. Therefore you breathe harder in an attempt to get enough oxygen. If you can’t get enough oxygen, you will feel tired and less able to carry out everyday activities. (Source:www.AgeUK.org.uk)
Your Pets need help too! Pets, especially dogs and cats, are at risk as well as human beings. We have all gone to our car to discover that it has become a sweltering oven. It is impossible to get in and even the steering wheel is too hot to touch. Dogs and cats should never be left in a hot, un-ventilated car. If leaving them is unavoidable, park in the shade and leave the windows down enough to let in fresh air and supply a bowl of fresh water. Do not leave them for a long period. Just a few minutes can be enough to cause heat exhaustion and even death. Incredibly, even the professionals, who ought to know better, can get it badly wrong. A police dog handler who left two dogs to die in the back of his car during a heat wave was spared a custodial sentence yesterday. A judge told Ian Craven, 50, that the mental anguish he suffered and loss of his career was in itself ‘quite a punishment’. He was banned from keeping dogs for just three years after admitting causing unnecessary suffering to the animals. One animal welfare charity said a jail sentence would have been appropriate. The officer sparked a national outcry in June after Chay, a four-year-old Malinois, and six-month-old Alsatian puppy Tilly died from heatstroke. They were left in the back of his scorching vehicle for more than four hours at the force’s dog training centre in Keston, Kent, while he went to a meeting in Stratford, East London. Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk
Hot Weather For The UK
High temperatures, reaching the top 20’s and even 30’s, produces a significant health risk to vulnerable people, namely the very young, the elderly and those suffering breathing and mobility issues. We all love to have some summer, but we must be aware of the potential dangers. Remember that pets can suffer too! Our problem in this country is that we do not have the hot weather often enough to acclimatise. If you are particularly vulnerable, take steps to prepare and help yourself. It could be a long hot summer. Where possible, use a stair lift and perhaps a wheelchair, avoid steep slopes and stairs, keep out of the direct sun and always drink plenty of water. The video below from ‘Down Under’ gives you some very useful tips.
Be sure that you enjoy the great summer weather but stay comfortable and, above all, safe. Follow the NHS guide which lays out sound advice for all - but especially for those at high risk through age, illness or lack of mobility.