The summer is finally here after a long dark miserable winter. When the sun is shining, it makes us more cheerful and for many people it signals the start of getting out of the house and having fun. The problem is we all know that too much of a good thing is bad for us and our Great British summers are no exception. The young, the sick and the elderly are the most vulnerable section of society for whom along with the sunshine comes a risk of developing potentially harmful illness. The meteorological office has a working system that issues alerts if a heat wave is likely and from June until September is the most likely time. Saying that, we have just had a mini heatwave in early May. As lovely as the sun is, it can be extremely dangerous for the young, the unwell and the elderly so precautions have to be thought about before the damage is done. Family members and Care Givers need to be aware and check to make sure everything is alright. Listed below are things we can do to minimise the potential risks of sun burn and heat stroke.
*KEEP HYDRATED... The elderly are more susceptible to dehydration than a younger person. This is because they have less ability to conserve water as they age. Also they become less aware of being thirsty and have difficulty adjusting to a change in temperature. Remembering to drink regularly, water or a sugar free squash. Sipping little and often and always having access to a drink. That means a Care Giver will have to think about leaving cold drinks in easy to reach areas, when they leave. Also remembering to take a drink with a lid on when leaving the home for any length of time. If temperatures are abnormally high, which causes sweating, then an electrolyte drink replacing loss of potassium and other vital minerals can be beneficial and correct any imbalances.
* KEEPING COOL -
Just as decreases in temperature can cause health problems, high body temperature is extremely dangerous as well. Seniors with medical conditions are especially at risk. Investing in a good quality fan can be a god send and for people at particular risk of overheating, then air conditioning can make all the difference. Keeping out of direct sunlight and drawing blinds or curtains can help keep a room cooler. The sun is at its hottest between 11 AM and 3PM so avoiding these times makes sense.
- KEEP IN TOUCH- Very high temperatures can prove life threatening so communication is important. Care Givers should let family members know if they are in any way concerned about the impact the sun is having on a client. Neighbours can also pay a vital role in keeping an eye, just as they would if it was harsh winter. A list of emergency contact numbers should be left in an easy to see place. Although this should apply all year round as you never know what situation may occur.
- WEAR THE RIGHT CLOTHES – During summer months it is important to dress appropriately. Wearing cotton clothes instead of synthetic fibres will allow your skin to breathe and you will feel more comfortable. Light colours and loose fitting garments will also help. Too much exposure to the sun can irritate eyes so to protect them against harmful UVA & UVB rays, a pair of sunglasses will help preserve vision. Wearing a sun hat also gives added protection and a parasol is also used by some.
- KNOW THE RISKS OF HYPERTHERMIA - During a hot summer, be aware of high body temperature and developing Hyperthermia. Heat stroke is an advanced form of hyperthermia and this can be life threatening. Making sure you know what to watch out for.
- Body Temperature higher than 104 Degrees
- A sudden change of behaviour such as acting in a confused manner, agitation or being grumpy.
- Nausea , vomiting, Head ache
- Rapid pulse, breathlessness
- Not sweating even on a hot day
- Feeling light headed and dizzy
- Abnormally tired and weak
- Muscle cramps
- Flushed skin
If heat stroke is left untreated it can cause seizures (fits) and loss of consciousness.
WHAT ACTION TO TAKE.
- Get them to lie down in a cool place, such as a room with air conditioning or shade
- Remove any unnecessary clothing to expose as much of the skin as possible
- Cool their skin. Cool wet sponge or flannel
- Fan their skin whist its moist
- Get them to drink water, fruit squash or rehydration drinks
- Stay with the person until they are feeling better. If a person is unconscious you should place the person in the recovery position and call for medical help.
Keeping track of time when outside is important as it’s easy to forget how long you have been at risk for. It is recommended that everyone wear a sun cream with at least an SPF factor of 25 to guard against the skin getting burnt. Lastly I would like to say that with a common sense approach and being sensible, the summer can be a great mood enhancer and can be enjoyed before the Autumn descends.