Extreme weather conditions can present a number of risks to vulnerable individuals. In general, older adults do not adjust as easily to sudden increases in temperature. This makes them more susceptible to heat exhaustion and other heat stress related illnesses. Heat exhaustion results in symptoms such as dizziness and confusion, headaches, appetite loss, fast breathing or pulse, and a high temperature. If left untreated, heat exhaustion can evolve into heatstroke, which can be a serious medical emergency.
Many medical conditions, and medications, can affect the body’s ability to regulate temperature. This can result in a higher risk of developing a heat stress related illness. Some medication can also be adversely affected by dehydration, which can exasperate symptoms further. For example, dehydration may lead to a drop in blood pressure, which can result in fainting or falling.
When temperatures remain high for longer periods of time, it is very important to take precautions to ensure the safety of those most vulnerable. Higher risk individuals should be kept out of the sun, and indoor spaces should be kept as cool as possible. Air conditioning and fans can help keep areas well-ventilated and cool. Curtains and blinds should be kept drawn in rooms which receive a lot of sun.
There are a number of other considerations to take when caring for people with dementia through a heatwave. Individuals with dementia may forget to drink enough fluids, which can lead to dehydration. In some cases, people with dementia may struggle to communicate that they are thirsty. It is important to ensure that adults with dementia are encouraged to drink water regularly. Such individuals may need frequent reminders to have a drink.
People with limited mobility may benefit from drinks being kept within easy reach at all times. Some people may be sensitive to the taste of plain water. Alternatives like flavoured squash, and hydrating foods such as chopped fruit, can help to keep such individuals well hydrated.
Some individuals with dementia may opt for their usual clothing rather than clothing which is more suitable for the heat. They may choose thick fibres and outerwear, instead of loose fitting, thin clothing. This can contribute to further difficulties regulating their body heat. Ensuring that people with dementia are dressed appropriately for the weather, can help to keep them more comfortable and prevent overheating.
Cooper House Care Home, located in Bradford, is one of our Older People’s Services. The service provides residential and nursing care to individuals over the age of 65, including those living with dementia. Kate Macwhirter, Registered Manager at Cooper House, talks us through the measures staff at the service are taking to prioritise resident safety in the hot weather:
“Thermodynamics is the key concept here; essentially we are looking for ways to keep the sun out of the home. This means keeping curtains shut during the day, and opening up the windows when the temperature drops overnight. Understanding the building is really important. We keep a firm eye on the Met Office, looking at not just heat, but wind direction too.
“We have taken staff off some routine jobs, so they can spend time on ensuring the residents are safe, hydrated and cool. Our Activities Coordinator is spending more time monitoring residents, as well as ensuring the animals we keep are also cared for during the heat. Staff are also not required to wear uniform during the hot weather, with the focus being on wearing comfortable, practical clothes.
“We have also changed our menu to reflect the weather, offering cooling, hydrating foods. We understand that people generally tend to eat less when it is hot. This means we must monitor residents closely, so we can be sure that they are eating enough.”
At Priory Adult Care, we offer a number of services to support individuals with dementia.
For more information on the specialist services we can offer, please call the enquiries and referrals team on 0808 208 2147 or click here to make an enquiry.