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Looking after our seniors in the heat

For the first time in 50 years, the Bureau of Meteorology said temperatures peaked above 33 degrees C in Sydney, Canberra, Adelaide and Melbourne on the same day last week.

Seniors can very easily become dehydrated, which can lead to heat exhaustion or heatstroke (Source: Shutterstock)
Seniors can very easily become dehydrated, which can lead to heat exhaustion or heatstroke (Source: Shutterstock)

With extreme heat killing more Australians than any other natural disaster, government organisations and community groups across Australia are calling on the community to look after our seniors.

The Victorian government’s Survive the Heat campaign for the 2016/2017 summer is now running to raise awareness of just how deadly extreme heat can be. The Commissioner for Senior Victorians Gerard Mansour says seniors can very easily become dehydrated, which can lead to heat exhaustion or heatstroke. 

“Heatstroke is a serious medical emergency which can result in permanent damage to vital organs, or even death, if not treated immediately,” he says.

Heat can also worsen the condition of someone who already has a medical issue such as heart disease or diabetes. Most reported illness and death is due to the effect of heat on those who are already ill.

During the heatwave in 2014, 167 people died in Victoria from heat exhaustion and heatstroke and 40 percent of those aged over 75.

“During the festive season, one of the best gifts we can give is to think of someone who may be alone,” Mr Mansour says. “Regular contact with an older person can help alleviate loneliness, as well as ensuring that they are safe and prepared – it could save a life.”

One enterprising community project in Cockatoo, southeast of Melbourne is helping older people and other vulnerable members of the community by pairing them with trained volunteers who relocate them to pre-arranged safer locations in extreme conditions such as heatwaves and bushfires.

As well as checking on individuals such as the sick and elderly and minimising sun exposure, the South Australian State Emergency service advises to stay hydrated, dress for summer in lightweight, light coloured clothing, prepare your home such as using air conditioning, curtains, awnings and blinds to help to keep the home cool, remembering pets and seeking medical advice.

Rob Purcell, Director of Community Resilience, Victoria also highlights visits to elderly loved ones over the holiday period is a great opportunity to make sure their smoke alarms are functioning and to run through a fire safety plan.

“People over 65 years of age are 3.7 times more likely to be the victim of a fire fatality than the general population,” he says. “It’s also important to check for any hazards around the home that could block exits in the event of a fire or the presence of items around the home that could fuel a fire.”

For medical advice about heatstroke, contact your local GP or telephone Healthdirect Australia on 1800 022 222. For immediate medical assistance call 000.

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