Help prevent heat stress in summer
While summer is a great time to be active and enjoy the weather, for people living with dementia, it can create some risks and challenges.
One particular problem to be aware of is heat stress, which is when your body can’t cool itself and maintain a healthy temperature. This can cause a range of problems, from mild conditions such as cramps or a rash, to severe dehydration, heat stroke and heat exhaustion.
People who are 65 and over are at increased risk of heat-related illnesses, as an older body doesn’t cope with sudden stress as efficiently as a younger body. If you are living with dementia, you may have be susceptible to other heat-related risks, such as forgetting to drink enough water, wearing clothes that are too warm, or experiencing confusion. Taking certain medications – for example, anti-depressants, beta blockers, amphetamines, sedatives and diuretics – impact your body’s ability to regulate temperature.
What are the symptoms of heat stress?
Heat stress symptoms depend on the condition the person is experiencing, but may include:
- hot and dry skin with a pale appearance
- a rapid heart rate
- muscle or abdominal cramps
- nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
- disorientation, confusion or delirium
- dizziness and light headedness
- a headache
- feeling extremely thirsty
- aggressive or irrational behaviour
- excessive sweating or no sweating with high temperature
- urinating less often
- a very high body temperature
If you are with someone who appears to be experiencing heat stress, cool them down immediately using whatever you have on hand – for example, get them into a cool shower, sponge them down with water, fan the person, remove warm clothing, wet them with the garden hose.
Seek medical help as quickly as possible by calling their doctor or 000. It’s a good idea to have a copy of your loved one’s emergency contact information handy, so you know who to call.
How to avoid heat stress
While you can still enjoy the sunshine, it’s important to take precautions to keep you safe, especially on extremely hot days. Here are some simple steps you can take help you stay cool and comfortable when the weather heats up.
Drink plenty of water during the day.
Place bottles or jugs of water somewhere where you’ll notice it, as a reminder to drink water. Snacks such as fruit can also help you stay hydrated. Also take note of your urine colour, and brown or dark yellow urine is a sign of dehydration.
Pay attention to the weather and plan ahead
Keep up to date with the daily weather forecast – if you have a smart phone, getting a weather app is a convenient way to do this. Temperatures above 37°C are particularly dangerous, so plan not to be outside on those extremely hot days, especially in the middle of the day when the sun is at its hottest.
Dress in clothes that keep you cool.
Lightweight, loose-fitting clothes made from natural fibres such as cotton or linen allow your skin to breathe on hot days. If your loved one with dementia is confused about what to wear, try laying out a set of cool clothing every day, so they can dress appropriately for the weather.
Check medications with your doctor.
If you take medications, ask your GP if they put you at increased risk of heat-related illness in summer. You may be advised to avoid certain types of medication, or have your dosage adjusted during the hot season.
Keep your home cool.
On hot days, draw your blinds and curtains, keep your air conditioner on (set it to ‘cool’) and make sure your home has enough ventilation. If you don’t have an air conditioner, use an electric fan to move air throughout the room. On extremely hot days, go to an air-conditioned place, such as a shopping centre, to stay cool.
Make sure you have access to a phone or personal alarm.
A power failure during a heatwave can be dangerous. Makes sure you have access to a phone or an alarm pendant that works if the power goes off, so you can always get help as soon as possible in case of an emergency.
Check on your loved one.
If you care for someone with dementia living alone, make sure you check on them regularly in hot weather. Look for symptoms of heat stress, such as paleness, hot and dry skin, headaches, cramps and confusion. People at high risk of heat stress should be checked on at least twice a day. Home Caring’s professional carers can assist with daily check-ins.
Home Caring provides high quality, compassionate care in the home environment. As a Home Care Package and NDIS provider, we do all we can to enhance independence, comfort and dignity. For more information or to arrange a free consultation please get in touch.