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Advice on keeping cool in a heatwave

Staying cool in a heatwave. Advice for the elderly and vulnerable

It’s July 2021, and the Met Office has just issued its first new-style alerts for extreme weather – in this case, heat. 

While we generally experience some very hot weather in parts of the UK most summers, these new hot weather alerts suggest that we should be extra vigilant, especially for our more vulnerable relatives and friends.

Stay out of the heat

  • Keep out of the sun between 11am and 3pm.
  • If you have to go out in the heat, walk in the shade, apply sunscreen and wear a hat and light scarf.
  • Avoid extreme physical exertion.
  • Wear light, loose-fitting cotton clothes.

Cool down

  • Have plenty of cold drinks, and avoid excess alcohol, caffeine and hot drinks.
  • Eat cold foods, particularly salads and fruit with a high water content.
  • Take a cool shower, bath or body wash.
  • Sprinkle water over your skin or clothing, or keep a damp cloth on the back of your neck.

Keep your environment cool

Keeping living space cool is hugely important.

  • Place a thermometer in the main living room and bedroom to keep a check on the temperature.
  • Keep windows that are exposed to the sun closed during the day, and open windows at night when the temperature has dropped.
  • Close curtains in rooms that get morning or afternoon sun. Bear in mind though that metal blinds and dark curtains can absorb heat, so consider replacing or putting reflective material in-between them and the window space.
  • Turn off non-essential lights and electrical equipment as they generate heat.
  • Turn the extractor fan on when you’re in the kitchen.
  • Keep indoor plants and bowls of water in the house as evaporation helps cool the air.
  • If possible, move into a cooler room, especially for sleeping.
  • Electric fans may provide some relief, if temperatures are below 35°C.

Managing health problems

  • Keep medicines below 25 °C or in the refrigerator (read the storage instructions on the packaging).
  • Seek medical advice if you are suffering from a chronic medical condition or taking multiple medications.

Feeling unwell?

  • Try to get help if you feel dizzy, weak, anxious or have intense thirst and a headache. Move to a cool place as soon as possible and measure your body temperature.
  • Drink some water or fruit juice to rehydrate.
  • Rest immediately in a cool place if you have painful muscular spasms (particularly in the legs, arms or abdomen), and drink oral rehydration solutions containing electrolytes. Medical attention is needed if heat cramps last more than one hour.
  • Consult your doctor if you feel unusual symptoms or if symptoms persist.

Planning for the longer term

  • Consider putting up external shading outside windows.
  • Use pale, reflective external paints.
  • Have your loft and cavity walls insulated – this keeps the heat in when it is cold and out when it is hot.
  • Grow trees and leafy plants near windows to act as natural air-conditioners.

Advice for care homes and other caring organisations includes:

  • Care homes and hospitals are advised to provide cool areas and monitor indoor temperatures to reduce the risk of heat-related illness.
  • GPs, district nurses and social workers can identify vulnerable patients and clients and providing them with heatwave information.
  • Registered providers of housing can encourage wardens and caretakers to keep an eye out for vulnerable tenants during heatwaves, and to consider measures to promote environmental cooling such as tree planting on their estates and building design


You may also be interested in:

  • Practical ways to encourage older people to drink more fluids
  • Food to boost the immune system in time of coronavirus


Article compiled by Kathy Lawrence, editor at When They Get Older.


Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán from Pexels

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