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Advice on keeping cool in a heatwave

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

While we have generally experienced some very hot weather in parts of the UK most summers, it looks like higher temperatures are going to be a feature of every summer in future. That means we need to be extra vigilant for our more vulnerable relatives and friends.

Here are some tips to help get through a hot day, and to manage the environment in the long term.

Stay out of the heat

This advice is probably obvious, but still worth a reminder.

  • 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 your body 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.
  • Consider external shutters, such as those that are popular in hotter Mediterranean countries.
  • Create a cross breeze by opening windows on both sides of a room or a building so that cooler air in the evenings and mornings can move through the building.
  • 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.

Consider air conditioning

Not something that we’ve traditionally included in UK homes, air conditioning is now becoming more popular. It comes with a price though, both economically and environmentally, so it’s worth thinking about how to use it most efficiently

  • Think about whether you need air conditioning installed throughout the house, or whether single, portable units will also meet your needs
  • Only use the aircon to cool a room, and then turn it off if you’re comfortable at that temperature
  • Combing aircon with fans to distribute the cooler air around a room
  • Choose units with  an energy efficiency ratio (ERR) that’s close to or above four

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

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

Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán from Pexels

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