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Age UK warns that older people should not cool down with cold water

15th July 2015

During an interview with BBC Radio 4, the head of research at Age UK warned that older people should not cool down by splashing themselves with cold water. This is because the skin shuts down when it perceives the cold water, which sends hot blood back into the body, raising the temperature.

Instead, he suggested using tepid water and a fan to combat the heatwave. He also explains the importance of drinking water, although highlights that those with arthritis or those unable to get out of the chair won’t drink water because they find it difficult to get to the toilet. However, this will be less of a problem for older people with stairlifts in the home.

Older people have a high degree of vulnerability during a heatwave

Professor James Goodwin continues to explain the big three, which are often experienced by people over the age of 75. When you reach this age, you will be less likely to be able to control your body temperature, your heart will not respond to the demands made on it as well, and balancing salt and water will become more difficult. Sweating is also greatly diminished, and by the age of 85 it’s probably almost over, so when 100 per cent of heat loss is aided by sweating, this shows the reality of how big of a challenge a heatwave can be for older people.

As older people are more likely to suffer from heat, it’s important that they are made aware of the ways to remain safe. As mentioned above, cooling down by using cold water is inadvisable, with tepid water on the skin aided by a fan the more sensible option. Goodwin also advises older people to remain out of direct sunlight, stay in moving air by an open window or by using air conditioning, and wear the right kind of clothing, such as cotton.

People are also urged in the BBC interview to encourage older relatives and neighbours to drink cool water and maintain a normal food intake, as dehydration can set in quickly, and salt needs to be replaced by eating as usual.

Image Credit: Mikael Lepp

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