Heatwave Brings Risks to the Elderly


England is set to be hotter than Barbados with an imminent heatwave creeping in. Both hospitals and care homes have been alerted to the fact that admissions may increase. Staff in the social care sector are being put on standby to stay in touch with the ailing and vulnerable.

Hospital Ward

Keeping the Heat at Bay

Public Health England has released some guidance as to what people can do to stay cool throughout the scorching heat. Some of these things include:

  • Eating cold foods, such as salad
  • Moving to a cooler room
  • Drinking plenty of water
  • Avoiding over exertion

For those who are mobile and able to move around, these actions are simple to complete, and you'll be able to stay hydrated and as cool as possible. But, if you are elderly and in a care home or receive home care, you will have to rely on the help of your carers to complete these actions.

If your relative or friend is fully or partially immobile, you may worry about how their needs will be met, especially when there may be a strain on the service because of other vulnerable people. Following the Mid Staffordshire scandal in which a number of hospitals were put on special measures, Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, is set to put a similar system in place for care homes.

Pressure Sores and Dehydration

In July 2009, 300 people died due to a 4-day heatwave which brought highs of 32 degrees Celsius. During August 2003 over a 10 day period 2,139 people were killed by the heat. Where hot days are consecutive, the "importance of staying cool in hot weather cannot be overstated" for people that are older according to Caroline Abrahams, an Age UK director.

Immobility is also a decisive factor in the amount of care and attention a person needs either in a care home or while receiving home care. Pressure ulcers are a particular problem in the heat as the skin will often be damp, exacerbating the chances of developing the condition.

Early signs of pressure damage can sometimes be missed, and people may not be repositioned every 2 hours, especially when there will be an increased strain on services because of the increase in demand. Equally, if a person cannot move around they may not be able to access cool water during the heatwave, putting them at risk of dehydration. Both of these examples constitute medical negligence, and are completely unacceptable.

Steps to Take

If you have concerns about the welfare of your friend or loved one and they are in a care home or receive care at home, you shouldn't let your feelings go unheard. Talk to the people that are providing their home care or the owners of the care home they are staying in and relay your concerns about care during periods of hot weather.

In some circumstances, like the ones highlighted, this lack of care can sometimes be fatal, and may leave you wondering what steps you can take next. In these circumstances we would always recommend instructing a clinical negligence specialist to make a detailed assessment of the care that was provided, and obtain answers as to what went wrong.

As well as ensuring your own peace of mind, this process will also help to ensure that the same fate doesn’t befall someone else’s loved one.

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