Health conditions

Heat stress in older people

If you are an older person you are more at risk of experiencing heat stress, especially if you live alone, have medical conditions, or take certain medications.

Your ability to care for yourself safely in hot weather can also be affected by:

  • being frail
  • being unable to move easily or without assistance
  • having dementia or a mental illness.

Planning ahead and following some simple advice can minimise your risk of heat stress during hot weather.

Find out general advice on how to prevent and treat heat stress.

Advice for carers

This advice is just as important if you care for an older family member, friend or neighbour.

Remember that as a carer, if you don’t take care of yourself in hot weather you are putting your own health at risk as well as those you care for.

Plan ahead

  • Ask a friend or family member to check on you twice a day if possible during hot weather, especially if you live alone. Whenever possible, it is better if your friend or family member can see you rather than just talk to you on the phone, as this will help them to check for any changes to your physical condition.
  • Make sure you have a phone that will work if there is a power failure. If you have a safety alarm pendant, make sure this will also work if the power is off.

Keep cool

  • If the house is hot, turn on your airconditioner if you have one. Make sure it is set to ‘cool’ before turning it on. If you are worried about the cost of using your airconditioner, look into what concessions (rebates) may be available on your energy bills.
  • Visiting airconditioned local libraries or shopping centres can also offer some relief from the heat.
  • Take simple measures to keep cool:
    • Rinse a cloth in cool water and use it to wipe your arms and neck.
    • Sleep with just a sheet over you.
    • Put your feet in a bowl of cool water.
    • Make ice cubes from water or cordial and suck them.
    • Put a bowl of ice cubes in front of a fan to create a cool breeze.

Clothing and personal aids

  • Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing, preferably made from natural fibres like cotton or linen that absorb sweat and allow the skin to breathe. Avoid synthetic fabrics.
  • If going outdoors, even for a short time, always:
    • apply sunscreen
    • wear a wide brim hat that covers your head and shades your face
    • wear sunglasses (remember to take your sunglasses off before going inside and then pause to let your eyes adjust from the bright sunlight).
  • If you use a wheelchair, walker or any other metal equipment, keep it in the shade as it can quickly become hot to touch and cause a burn.

Eating and drinking

  • Make sure you drink plenty of fluids, even if you do not feel thirsty, unless your doctor has advised you not to. Try to drink water or diluted fruit juice and avoid tea, coffee or alcohol.
  • Always carry a water bottle to avoid becoming dehydrated.
  • Eat smaller meals more often. Cold meals, such as salads and fruit, help keep your water levels up and as you are not using your stove or oven your home will be cooler.
  • Take care when you buy, store and handle food in hot weather to reduce the risk of food poisoning.

Medicines

  • If you take prescription medications, you must continue to take these during periods of extreme heat.
  • Some medications can make you more likely to experience sunburn and heat stress, so extra care should be taken to watch for signs that you are becoming affected by the heat. Speak to your doctor or a chemist if you need advice on a particular medication.

Signs and symptoms

Find out more about signs and symptoms of heat stress.

Treatment of heat stress

If you think you may be suffering from heat stress, you need to be cool yourself down immediately.

Call a doctor or an ambulance your condition does not improve within an hour after taking steps to cool down, or if you have any heat-related symptoms that are causing concern.

Find out more about how to prevent and treat heat stress.

Where to get help

  • If you have severe symptoms, always dial triple zero (000) to call an ambulance in a medical emergency
  • See your doctor
  • Visit a GP after hours
  • Ring healthdirect on 1800 022 222

Remember

  • When it is very hot, you may be at increased risk of heat stress.
  • Some people are more at risk of heat stress, including babies and young children, the elderly, and people with some health conditions or on certain medications.

Acknowledgements
Disaster Preparedness Management Unit

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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