Summer care for seniors


Christmas and summer can combine to create a time of joy and fun, but for older people it can highlight the restricted abilities and health challenges that come with age.

Restricted mobility, reduced hearing and vision, and inability to deal with the heat, can all make the warmer, festive season less enjoyable for some older members of the community.

Connect Health & Community, CEO Amanda Murphy, said the time of family get-togethers provides a good opportunity to gauge how older family members are coping, and offer them a little help.

“The lead up to Christmas and warmer weather can highlight for some older people that they need additional help with tasks, especially things like Christmas shopping, cooking or preparing their homes for visitors,” she said.

“Because this is a time when relatives and friends come together, it is a good opportunity to talk with older family members about how they are going at home. This can include observing whether they are still living well in their home. Look out for things like how they are coping with everyday tasks; if their mobility, hearing and vision are still good, or if there has been visible weight loss,” she said.

Ms Murphy said it is also important during the warmer weather to keep an eye on how older loved ones and neighbours are dealing with the heat.

“Heat stress is a very real risk, and with predictions of extreme heat and the fact older people’s bodies simply can't handle the hot as well as younger people, it is important to make sure they are ok,” she said.

Poor circulation and the inability to sweat can hamper older people’s self-regulation of the heat, and when teamed with obesity, heart disease, dementia, diabetes and other chronic medical conditions and medications, the challenges facing older members of the community are real.

Heat-stress

Heat-stress is a severe health issue for older people and it is important to keep an eye out for symptoms like confusion or altered mental state in seniors who are out in hot weather. If your loved one or neighbour should collapse or lose consciousness as a result of the heat, call 000 and make them as cool and comfortable as possible while awaiting a medical response.  

How do you prevent heat stress occuring? Try these tips for helping your loved one survive summer heat:

  • Keeping them out of the heat of the day is vital. If they won't stay inside, have them sit in a shady spot outdoors, under a fan if possible. Spending the hottest part of the day inside is important.
  • To keep the house cooler without running air conditioning, close curtains or blinds on the east side of the home during the morning, and the west side in the afternoon.
  • If your loved one doesn't have air conditioning or refuses to use it, encourage them to spend some time in a cool, air-conditioned space like a library, shopping centre or theatre.
  • Fluids are vital. Help keep their fluids up by offering drinks they prefer, staying away from highly caffeinated beverages, soft drinks and alcohol.
  • Keep cool treats available that are low in sugar and have a high water content. Sugar-free icypoles are great and can be made using juice. High water content fruit and vegetables like watermelon, cucumbers, celery, strawberries and capsicum are also a good way to increase an older person’s fluid intake without getting them to drink more.
  • Unfortunately, seniors sometimes overdress for warm weather, so make sure their clothing is lightweight, loose and light in color. Hats should be loosely woven or well ventilated so they don't trap heat. A broad brim is important for shading the entire face.

“While it is hard to watch our older loved one’s struggle with daily tasks and extreme weather conditions, a little assistance can have a great effect on their capacity and health,” Ms Murphy said.

“And while it is great to catch up and help during the festive season, it is also important to ask your loved one how they feel about their current circumstances. Discuss respectfully what you have observed and ask if they feel these things are impacting on their quality of life,” she said.

Ms Murphy said while it is always a difficult subject to raise, this is a good time for families to have those important conversations about aged care support, health and services, and future plans, while everyone is together.

If you are concerned about how you or an older person in your life is coping, Connect Health & Community has a range of support services that can help. Talk to your GP or call Connect Health & Community on 03) 9575 5333 for how to get assistance.

 

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