I know we shouldn’t complain about it because it happens so rarely here, and as we’re British we don’t feel we should openly complain about anything much of the time anyway, but summertime can be hot, hot, hot. And the older you get, the more vulnerable you can be in the heat. Much is said about the dire results of cold in the winter, but overheating can also be a major problem in the summer for the elderly.
In a recent radio interview, Professor James Goodwin, head of research at Age UK, said that evidence has shown that when you get to 75 and over there are three major issues with summertime that can directly affect the elderly. Firstly, your body is less able to regulate its temperature than it could when you were younger. Secondly, this can place extra demands on your heart. And finally, you are less able to balance salt and water. The three together add up to “a high degree of vulnerability”.
So what should you do if you’re feeling hot this summertime? Well, the first word of warning from Professor Goodwin is not to douse yourself in cold water. It may seem like a logical thing to do to cool yourself down, but apparently it could actually be one of the worst thing you could do in the circumstances. When the skin feels cold it sends all the hot blood back into the body, raising your internal temperature.
Another issue is that the older you get, the less you sweat. Good because you can save on deodorant, but bad because sweating is how the body cools itself down when it’s hot.
So what should we be doing? Stay cool and minimise risks – wear loose cotton clothing, create a draft through opening windows or by using a fan, drink cool water to keep hydrated, and eat well. And, if you are still too hot, put tepid water on your skin (not cold – tepid).
So this summer, if you are looking after an elderly relative, or if you yourself are a member of an age group that’s more at risk of heat-related issues, then watch out for the symptoms, stay in the shade, recognise that you aren’t able to regulate your body temperature as well as you used to and drink lots of water. Don’t under any circumstances go running through any fountains or taking part in the ice bucket challenge!