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How to keep safe in a heatwave

20th July 2015

Brits are renowned for complaining about the miserable weather, yet when our wishes are granted and a heatwave occurs, we are often very unprepared. While the sunshine often improves our moods, alongside a whole host of other benefits, it also brings with it a number of dangers.

Many of us are conscious of the effects that UV rays can have on our skin, but it seems that little is done to create awareness about the risks of a heatwave. Extreme temperatures can be especially hazardous for elderly people, additionally so for those with illnesses, as health problems can be triggered by the hot weather.

In this article, you will find some great advice for making sure you don’t overheat this summer, in order to help you look after yourself appropriately, or any older relatives or neighbours you may know.

Keep hydrated

Although one of the most obvious tips, and one that we should adhere to every day, it is often one of the most ignored. It is recommended that adults consume at least 1.5 litres of water a day, which is approximately the equivalent of eight glasses of liquid. This will help to prevent headaches, tiredness and constipation, as well as ensure that your body has the correct amount of fluids to function appropriately. Older people such as stairlift users often need more encouragement to keep hydrated, as mobility problems that make it difficult to get to or use the loo will often discourage people from drinking more water.

Signs of dehydration include dark coloured urine, poor concentration, dizziness and a dry mouth. Dehydration is more likely to occur during a heatwave, as the body is sweating more in order to maintain a cooler body temperature. This is why it is even more important to drink enough liquid during a heatwave, to replace the lost fluids. Water is the healthiest way to quench your thirst, although milk, fruit juices and squashes are also great ways to stay hydrated.

Splash yourself with water

In a recent interview with BBC Radio 4, Professor James Goodwin, head of research at Age UK, stressed that older people should use tepid water to cool down, rather than cold water. This is because the skin shuts down when covered in cold water, sending hot blood back into the body, which in turn causes the temperature to rise.

Those over the age of 75 are less likely to be able to control body temperature than those who are younger, as the heart does not respond to the body’s demands as efficiently, and the body is not as good at balancing salt and water levels. Therefore, tepid water should be used to cool down, which can be combined with a fan to further the cooling effect.

Stay indoors

Contrary to belief, staying indoors can actually be much cooler than sitting outside, especially during the hottest part of the day between 11am and 3pm. It is often advised that windows are kept shut during extreme temperatures, while closing blinds and curtains will also help to keep the sun out of the home.

You may find that you have a room that is cooler than the others, so if this is the case, it is suggested that you spend time here if necessary.

Ensure you have enough supplies

Should you be unable to leave the house due to a heatwave, you will need enough food and medication to keep you going. Therefore, it is always wise to have a stock of supplies, such as bottled water and food that will keep for long periods of time. It’s also important to maintain a balanced diet during a heatwave, as you need to ensure that your salt levels remain safe.

Turn off electric appliances

Any electrical items that are not in use should be turned off in order to prevent unnecessary heat from being generated. This may be appliances such as light bulbs, computers, ovens and microwaves, which can most likely be done without in the event of hot weather. However, never unplug your telephone, in case you need to contact someone in an emergency.

Check the weather forecast

Keeping a close eye on the weather forecast is also a good idea, as it will help you to make plans accordingly. The Met Office provides warnings on its website, with specific heat information found here, although regular reports will be broadcast on TV with the local news.

People with older relatives or neighbours may wish to inform others in the event of a heatwave, just in case they are unaware of the severity of the situation.

Use sun cream

If you do need to venture outside, it is important that you use sunscreen to protect your skin from the harmful UV rays. This should be applied to all areas of the body that are exposed to the sun, with extra care taken when covering the scalp and any moles. Hats can also provide a great source of protection from both the sun and heat, with lightweight and airy clothing such as cotton and linen recommended too.

Image Credit: Ryk Neethling, frankieleon, Alexander Baxevanis, Angela Mueller, Daniel Nisbet (


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