Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
As Summer swelters on, remember to consider people in their later years are susceptible to heat, especially if they have heart disease or diabetes. The hot weather can cause changes in glucose levels and general heat exhaustion, quickly. The impact on health can be considerable and long lasting, let alone with the potential for falls. Any of these issues can lead to unwanted hospitalisation and a long recovery. At the most extreme, it can be a reason that leads to people losing independence and needing additional care and support. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include headaches, dizziness, nausea and vomiting, tiredness, muscle cramps, stomach cramps and pale skin.
Often people in their later years don't feel the need to drink as much and don't feel the heat in the same way. This can be from a variety of causes :
- loss of muscle tissue as is a common aspect of ageing
- limited active movement or exercise,
- fluid loading in the body, such as oedema in the legs,
- medications which decrease sensation or change perceptions of body functions
- memory and general awareness of their surroundings
- many other reasons.
People whose movement is slow and painful often don't like to drink because it makes them need the toilet. This can be made worse if they are on fluid tablets which increase the volume of urine for a period of time after they take the tablet. Choosing not to drink for these reasons can increase their chances of urinary infections and stress kidneys and heart function.
Many older people have lived through times with little money and are very cautious about the use of electricity. They might also fear home invasion or being seen from the street. This might require a combination of approaches to put in place options that ensure they feel safe and also provide adequate air flow in the home.
You must keep the drinking process easy to understand and close at hand.
- A strategy is to have a jug or bottle of water close by to where the person sits.
- Make sure its not too big for them to handle pouring out into a glass or to pick up and drink from.
- Some older people and some people with dementia find drinking from straws or unusual drinking bottles confusing, so won't touch what they don't recognise.
- If you are a carer who is close by, you could remind them to drink a half glass every hour or two.
- You might find they can't handle a full glass as it makes them full and uncomfortable.
- You can put pictures of glasses of water on the fridge as a reminder.
- Some will also set alarms throughout the day (although this can be a bit annoying!).
Many older people have myths about the heat and Summer too. Some will go out in the middle of the day to do gardening in the 40O heat because sweating is good for you! Some people have grown up terrified of lightning and will close all the curtains during storms and hide away. Others have always been told that the sun will heal things by drying and undress their wounds to be baked in the sun.
It takes patience and understanding to get into an older person's thinking and to make adjustments that make sense to them. Keeping the message coming about needing to drink water regularly and keeping cool is the start. The its about finding and trialing all the strategies that are relevant for that person. Some work and some don't, but we must keep it up to ensure peopel in thier later years are safe and comfortable.