As temperatures soar in New Zealand, residential aged care facilities need to be especially mindful of the effects of the heat on older people, and especially those with medical conditions.

Canterbury District Health Board medical officer Alistair Humphrey told the AM Show that said New Zealanders should not be complacent, as the weather is at an extremely dangerous level.

He said elderly and young children were particularly vulnerable, and Kiwis should make sure they are stocked up on fluids all day long and keep the windows open.

“Elderly people, who don’t regulate heat quite as well, [are coming into emergency departments] dizzy, not having drunk enough, not having being wearing a hat.”

Older people can suffer from the results of poor circulation caused by rising temperatures. Symptoms include dizziness, dry skin, swelling and shortness of breath.

Higher body temperatures can also disturb the body’s normal biological cycle, which regulates physical health, cognition and emotions. It can lead to altered sleep quality.

Increased sweating can result in uncomfortable clamminess and losses of fluid.

More energy and oxygen is required to dissipate the extra heat, leaving us feeling fatigued as we’ve burned more calories, and also thirstier.

It is important to try to keep cool and hydrate.

Talking to Australian Aged Care INsite, Dr John Van Der Kallen, lecturer in the School of Medicine and Public Health at the University of Newcastle, advises increased vigilance when it comes to the elderly and implores the young or friends and family to check in on those at risk.

Being proactive in regard to dehydration, especially as certain medicines dehydrate the elderly, is key, said Van Der Kallen.

“Often the reason the elderly is at risk is they are on medication,” he said. “Their physiological responses to heat are not the same as a younger person. A younger person might feel thirsty earlier, might feel weak earlier, might get headaches earlier. An elderly person’s responses can be quite dulled.

“We have to start adapting to these events. This year had been unprecedented, but unfortunately this is what is going to happen as the world gets hotter.”

Experts say those most vulnerable to the heat were elderly, pregnant people, babies, and those who already had medical conditions.

But healthy adults who work outdoors and those people who were in institutions like prisons, hospitals and residential care are also especially vulnerable.

Dr Doug Shaw, public health physician and member of Doctors for the Environment Australia, agrees we also need to think about the effects of the heat on health workers.

“Another impact on our health worker colleagues is just increased workload. They may be in air-conditioned emergency departments or the wards, or the general practice but [the heatwave] increases the workload of an already stretched healthcare system.”

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