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The risks of high and low temperatures to older adults

Older adults are more sensitive to extreme temperatures. Find out more about the risk of high and low temperatures to older adults.

February 02, 2023

old couple enjoying summer

Older people with health conditions can be more susceptible to temperature fluctuations. Other age-related factors can also affect our ability to adjust to the extreme temperatures that occur during the summer and winter months. This article looks at some of the factors that increase the risks of high or low-temperature vulnerability in older adults. 

The risks of high temperatures

Everybody eagerly waits for the summer months, but heatwaves have increased in the UK in the last few years. Unfortunately, too much heat and a temperature rise can cause health complications for older adults. 

Dehydration and medication side-effects

As the weather becomes warm, it's crucial to ensure your older relatives keep themselves hydrated, as rising temperatures can cause the body to lose fluids, increasing the possibility of dehydration.

Moreover, the kidneys' function declines with age, meaning the body loses more water through urination. In addition, some older people might have underlying health conditions or take medicines like sedatives, diuretics or high-blood pressure medications that further lead the body to lose more water.

Certain medications can also cause photoallergic reactions due to high exposure to the sun. Checking the medication instructions in the summer months is essential, especially if new medications have been prescribed because you may be unfamiliar with the side-effects.

Dehydration might also cause dizziness, resulting in an increased risk of falls with severe consequences. Ensure to look out for dehydration symptoms, which require immediate medical attention.

Heat stroke and cardiac stress

Heat stroke or heat exhaustion means the body cannot keep itself cool. It might make your older relatives feel weak, dizzy, nauseous, or uncoordinated.

Studies show that people over 65 and older are at a greater risk of heat-related conditions. Heat stroke in older people can be a medical emergency causing serious symptoms such as seizures, confusion, loss of consciousness, and disorientation

In addition, soaring temperatures can cause cardiovascular pressure, increased heart rate and other heart-related complications such as a heart attack. 

Dementia

If your older relatives are living with Dementia or Alzheimer's disease, they might forget to hydrate themselves in the summer months. Their brain might not recognise the need to drink water, increasing their chances of becoming dehydrated.

Medications might also affect their hydration levels and lead to a decrease in blood pressure. Dementia and dehydration combined can increase the risk of falls in older adults, with serious consequences and injuries requiring hospitalisation. 

The risks of low temperatures

Old woman keeping warm in her house

Similar to their susceptibility towards heat, older adults are also sensitive to cold temperatures. As the temperature falls, hospitals see a rise in patients with heart and respiratory concerns. 

Frostbite

Older adults are more prone to frostbite as they usually have a lower body temperature, damaging the underlying skin and tissues. In addition, a body temperature below 95°F can further exacerbate other medical conditions causing a heart attack, liver damage, or kidney problems.

Hypothermia

Being outside for extended periods or living in a poorly heated house can cause hypothermia in older adults. This is because cold temperatures make the body lose heat faster than it can produce.

As a result, hypothermia impacts the brain, making it difficult to think or move clearly. In addition, chronic conditions such as Parkinson's, thyroid disorders, diabetes, or memory loss might make it more difficult to regulate body temperature. 

There is also a real risk of hypothermia if someone falls when alone and cannot get up. Temperatures drop much lower at night and a personal fall alarm is a potential life-saver in this situation.

 

Respiratory issues and medication side-effects

Cold weather suppresses the immune system and the flu virus can survive longer in low temperatures. In addition, low temperatures can impact the lungs of older adults, further increasing the risk of respiratory diseases such as pneumonia, asthma, and COPD.

Taking certain medicines and being inactive might also affect the body's ability to regulate its temperature. Be mindful of your loved ones' medication routine and check they have received their flu vaccination. 

Falls and slips

Icy pavements or driveways increase the risk of falls for all us. Older adults may be more susceptible if they have become unsteady on their feet. Though falls on ice and snow might be relatively minor to many people, these can cause serious injuries in older adults and affect their confidence and mobility. 

 

How can you help keep loved ones safe?

Older adults should take extra precautions to stay warm in cold weather and cool in hot weather. If their symptoms change drastically, they should seek medical help.

However, there are some steps you can take to help them manage the effects of temperature extremes. Follow our winter wellbeing tips, some of which we have summarised here:

  1. Make sure your elderly relatives are aware of weather changes in their area and plan accordingly for hot or cold weather.
  2. Put reminders for your older loved ones to keep themselves hydrated in hot weather. 
  3. Ensure that their central heating systems are working correctly and they dress adequately according to the weather.
  4. If they are concerned about fuel poverty and the cost of keeping warm, check they are eligible for Cold Weather Payment and other benefits. There are practical steps you can take to reduce energy bills and reduce heat escaping from the home.
  5. During summer, if there are no fans or air conditioning in their home, ensure that they keep their space as cool as possible by keeping the curtains shut and limiting the use of the oven.

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