DR Rob Gandy  I  UK

Wow! It’s been a glorious and HOT Midsummer, with many temperatures soaring to heights not seen for around 40 years. The beaches are full and ice cream sales have gone through the roof. So isn’t this all good news?

Well, not necessarily. Heat waves can be not only extremely uncomfortable, but often deadly. And this is particularly the case for the elderly. People aged 65 years and over have an increased inability to regulate body temperature. Therefore, when they are exposed to extremely hot weather, they can become susceptible to hyperthermia. Any older people with additional health problems, particularly chronic heart, lung or kidney diseases, can be the most vulnerable. The use of many medications such as diuretics, sedatives, tranquilizers, and blood pressure medications, may contribute; and sweat gland problems and poor circulation can increase risks further1.

…helpful to monitor weather reports

Image by Jordan Ladikos via

It can be helpful to monitor weather reports. The old adage “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity” is particularly relevant. This is because the day’s highest temperature is not the best measure for danger. It is the unrelenting heat prohibiting people to rest at night that is responsible for more deaths of the elderly than the temperature itself1.

Therefore what can you do? The following guidance is useful not just for you as the reader, but also for older people that you know. So please check if your elderly family, friends and neighbours are suffering from the heat, and suggest the following tips to them1,2.

  • Drink plenty of liquids, particularly water or juice, throughout the day. Dehydration is the root of many heat-related health problems. The elderly do not always sense thirst and will go long periods of time without taking in fluids. But while they should increase their fluids, they should avoid both alcoholic and caffeinated beverages, because they can increase dehydration.
  • Wear appropriate clothes, such as light, loose-fitting clothing. The elderly don’t always feel as warm as younger people, due to circulatory problems, so they tend to dress warmly even with scorching temperature! Stay away from man-made fabrics such as lycra and polyster.
  • Stay indoors during midday hours. We all know the song “Mad dogs and Englishmen” – well Noel Coward was on to something! It is no coincidence that people who live in hot countries have siestas and disappear when the Sun is at its highest. Just because we rarely get hot lunchtimes, doesn’t mean that we won’t be adversely affected by being out in the sun.
  • Take it Easy. Avoid strenuous exercise in extreme heat. This includes exercise in the normal sense, and also includes activities such as dancing, sports, playing motion games such as Wii and Xbox Kinect, and of course any outdoor activities.
  • Minimise activities that generate heat in the home. These include cooking meals on the stove or in the oven, as well as running the dryer, etc, etc. For many people there are alternatives.
  • Seek air-conditioned environments. And while these might not be that commonplace in the UK, there are simpler options. Just buying and using an electric fan can make a big difference. So if you, or people you know, haven’t got an electric fan, go and buy one! You can get a cheap one for less than £10!
  • Watch the Heat Index. This is so you know whether things are going to get worse before they get better, and so you can plan accordingly.
  • Know the warning signs of heat-related illness. Don’t just say “I’ll be alright”, or assume that someone who is struggling will be alright. That’s why we have a NHS and you can get good advice by simply calling 111. Only call 999 if there is a genuine emergency.

Otherwise, enjoy the nice weather while it lasts!