Hydration of elders in a heatwave
Health and wellbeing

Hydration in a heatwave

Temperatures will soar this week so we need to stay cool. Here are our tried and tested, essential tips…

The importance of hydration

Staying hydrated is critical for all of us, young or old and especially for those with underlying or long term health conditions. Medication only works effectively when we’re fully hydrated. Hydration prevents urinary tract infections, low blood pressure, falls and constipation. Hydration maintains cognitive functions (thinking and communicating) and wound healing. It also helps avoid headaches, dizziness, tiredness and confusion.

Those living with dementia can inadvertently or deliberately resist drinking and appear more disoriented than usual.  We can help by keeping their surroundings cool to maintain hydration and encourage the drinking of more water.

#1 cool the home

When it’s hot, find the coolest room in the home and encourage your elder to make themselves comfortable there. Cool areas are likely to be downstairs (because warm air rises) and north-ish facing.

When to open and close windows

Open all windows and doors before the day starts warming up, say before 9 am.  Then shut all doors and windows and draw the curtains, especially where the sun pours in during the day.  It may sound counterintuitive (and rather grim) to sit in a darkened room but it’s the only way to keep the inside of the home cooler than outside for the rest of the day.

Fortunately, Marj’s rooms are in the shade until the sun hits her windows in the afternoon, by which time we’ve closed the curtains. Marj would far rather watch the comings and goings through her window, but she will tolerate closed curtains in the heat.

Only open windows and doors up again when the air is cooler outside than in (this might be quite late).

If you must open windows during the heat of the day, then create a crosswind. Open windows across the room or home e.g. front and back, to let air flow in and out.  Heat-repelling window films can be applied if needed and thermal blinds keep heat out in the summer. In winter thermal blinds keep warmth in.

When it’s crazy hot, I pop round very early and open Marj’s place right up while she’s still sleeping.  That way all the hot air built up from the previous day escapes before she wakes.

Do make sure home security isn’t compromised by any of the above actions.  You may need a neighbour’s help if you don’t live nearby.

Use fans cleverly

Electric fans can help by pushing hot air out of a window or boosting cooling crosswinds. A bowl or tray of ice in front of a fan cools the airflow down too. Misting the face and arms with water has a similar effect. A cool flannel placed nearby is useful for cooling a hot forehead, neck or hands.

As a last resort you can always buy a portable aircon unit, it’s pricier though.  We’ve managed without so far.  Otherwise, turn off as much electrical equipment as possible as it all throws off heat.

Wear the right clothes

Encourage the wearing of loose and light clothing, sleeping in 100% cotton PJs and bedding too if possible.

#2 increase hydration

Ways to increase liquid intake include:

  • always having a glass/cup of water nearby, though you may need to prompt your elder to drink more often. People living with dementia can sometimes disassociate a nearby glass of water with thirst or drinking and may find swallowing challenging.
  • drinking water, weak squash or fruit tea throughout the day and at mealtimes. I’ve bought some mixed cartons of squash for Marj to try. Fancy mocktails with a straw might also tempt reluctant drinkers. Tea and coffee are better than nothing at all. Fruit ice lollies, milkshakes and jelly and ice cream also count. Try colourful and enticing sundaes to make liquids irresistible.
  • eating cool food, fresh fruit and vegetables with high water content (like oranges and cucumber). Consider soups or sauces with high liquid content.

You can check hydration by the colour of your wee*.  This hydration chart helps check whether we’re adequately hydrated.

hydration chart

If you’ve any more tips on how to help elders stay cool and hydrated in the heat, please pass them on by commenting below, for us all.

Lastly, these jelly drops are an innovative hydration idea. I ordered a box for Marj to try, perhaps you’d like to do the same?  We reviewed them together on 28 June 2020, on Instagram and Facebook @maudandmum.

Stay cool.

* This is rather alarming but has to be said – if no urine is passed in a day, seek medical advice. This can be a symptom of an infection and if left untreated, may develop into life-threatening sepsis. We’re at more risk of infection if we have a weakened immune system, e.g. a long-term condition such as diabetes, COPD or heart disease or we’re undergoing chemotherapy or using a catheter.

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