The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has updated its guidance offering support and advice for residential and care settings during heatwaves.
The advice follows national emergency which has been declared with temperatures possibly reaching 41C (106F) in some parts of the UK today.
The government is warning that the biggest increase in risk of death is among those living care homes. It has now stepped in to update its guidance to care homes by urging staff to ‘advise residents to avoid caffeine (coffee, tea, colas), very sweet drinks and alcohol’.
The main causes of illness and death during a heatwave are respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.
Additionally, there are specific heat-related illnesses including:
• heat cramps – caused by dehydratation and loss of electrolytes, often following exercise
• heat rash – small, red, itchy papules
• heat oedema – mainly in the ankles, due to vasodilatation and retention of fluid
• heat syncope – dizziness and fainting, due to dehydratation, vasodilatation, cardiovascular disease and certain medications
• older people, especially those over 75 years old, or those living on their own and who are socially isolated, or in a care home
• those with chronic and severe illness, including heart conditions, diabetes, respiratory or renal insufficiency, Parkinson’s disease, or severe mental illness
• those on medications that potentially affect renal function, sweating, thermoregulation, or electrolyte balance
• those who are unable to adapt their behaviour to keep cool, including those with Alzheimer’s, disabilities, or who are bed bound
Mike Padgham, care of the Independent Care Group said:
“An extended period of hot weather such as that we are being warned about can pose a health risk to those in our care and we are reminding our fellow providers to be vigilant.
“To those looking after people in care and nursing homes they must follow the Government’s advice on heatwaves and those visiting people in their own home to similarly ensure clients are safe from the dangers of a heatwave.
“We would also urge the public to be vigilant too. Some older and vulnerable people live alone and might not be taking extra care during the heatwave.
“We would ask for people to be good neighbours and to check in on those people and make sure they are looking after themselves over the coming days.”
Helen Wildbore, Director of R&RA said:
‘Providers will know the dangers posed to older people by extreme heat and its vital that their risk assessments and action plans are shared with care users and their families/carers. This will not only help to ease any worries relatives/carers may have but communication is also key to ensuring risks are identified and plans are individualised. Where homes have an outbreak, it is vital that the Government’s heatwave guidance is followed and people are not isolated in hot rooms.’
Cllr Louise Gittins, Vice-Chair of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board, said:
“With a Red Heat Alert having been issued for the first time by the Met Office, people should avoid unnecessary travel and take action now to keep yourself and others safe.
“Extreme heat is a serious thing. “Research published this week shows that nearly 800 extra deaths a year in the UK are caused by excessive heat. With a period of record breaking heat due, people should remember to take care. It is not just those who may be more vulnerable who are at risk from these extreme temperatures. Anyone could potentially fall ill if they have not taken adequate precautions.
“No-one is immune to the power of the sun. Drinking plenty of water, keeping our homes cool, avoiding direct sunlight during the hottest hours of the day and using sunscreen are sensible precautions we all need to remember.”
Jill Young, operations director at Vida Healthcare, discusses the initiatives that are in place across the three specialist dementia care homes to keep residents cool and comfortable during a heatwave.
“Hot weather can present significant challenges for older and more vulnerable people, particularly those living with dementia. Dehydration and heatstroke are real concerns that must be taken into account.
“At Vida we have a permanent plan in place should a heatwave, like the one due to occur next week, take place to make sure our residents are kept cool, hydrated, happy and healthy. We’ve already started implementing a range of initiatives which will be kept in place until the weather cools down.
“Dehydration is a particular cause for concern, as some of our residents may forget to keep hydrated. No matter the weather, each one of our residents has a hydration and fluid care plan and chart so that staff can monitor their hydration levels. This ensures we can keep a close eye on residents who might not be drinking enough.
“During hot weather, we also introduce extra fluid measures. Our chefs make jelly sweets that contain 20ml of water per sweet – our residents love them and it can be a straightforward way of giving them a little extra fluid. Our freezers are kept stocked with ice creams and ice lollies for both staff and residents which are available at all times, and our residents also have access to jugs of juice and water in their rooms and the communal areas.
“We’re very lucky that all three of our homes have access to secure outdoor spaces with shaded areas that our residents can enjoy. If a resident is keen to go outside, our staff will make sure they’re wearing a hat and suncream, and will encourage them to sit in the shade to keep safe from the sun.
“In terms of our care homes, we have destination areas with air conditioning to keep staff and residents cool, and we keep windows open to increase the flow of fresh air into the building.
“Fans are also available to every resident, however we have strict infection control measures in place and will clean each fan thoroughly to reduce the risk of residents contracting an infection. Residents are also given increased opportunities to have showers and baths to keep them cool and comfortable.
“It’s not only the residents’ surroundings that play an important role in keeping them safe from the heat. We have emergency menus on standby that reduce the amount of hot food being cooked and served and instead focuses instead on cold and lighter foods, such as salads. This also plays an important role in keeping our chefs cool in the kitchen.”
For more information, please visit www.vidahealthcare.co.uk