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Coping with the heat: What our elders can teach us

28 January, 2014

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Deputy CEO, Sara Blunt, says that our elders are full of wisdom and life experience, if only we'd listen!

I was thinking about the heat last night. Last year we had a heatwave too, although not quite as severe as last week’s.

At one of our homes I was called due to problems with the air conditioner. The air conditioner expert went on to the roof and reported that it was 60C on the roof and as a result the compressor was cutting out every now and again to protect the machine. He said: “You can’t expect to have it 21C in a room when it is 60C on the roof. And, if you want to maximise efficiency I’d advise a ten degree difference between outside and inside so if it is 40C outside the rooms at 30C will seem cooler." I remember my Dad saying the same thing, only his perspective was that it was best for your body to have less than 10 degrees difference between inside and outside.

So I went and spoke to the residents to see what their view was. Some of their rooms were about 25C at the time. One of the residents, who had 87 years of life experience said: “It’s nice to be warmer for my old bones and reminds me of when I was young. It was so hot we would close the curtains and the house would be as dark and cool as possible. We wouldn’t move around much, my father would tell us to lie still on our beds at night and not thrash around. We’d be tired so we wouldn’t have to do all our chores. Change in the weather like this reminds me of life". I said that we were trying to do all we could to keep the rooms cool and the staff had asked me to come as they were concerned about the heat. He replied: “You young things are all too busy rushing around, you just need to realise that when it’s hot you can’t do so much”.

I spoke with an exercise physiologist this morning and she made the comment that the body uses as much energy keeping cool in extreme hot weather as it does keeping warm in cold weather. We notice when we shiver with cold, but we don’t notice so much the changes in our body’s chemistry as it responds to hot weather. That is why you might have felt a bit tired over the weekend as you recovered from last week. We sweat more to cool, our pores open to let heat out, we breathe differently. Our bodies are amazing in how they respond, but if we move from a cold environment to a hot one then back again, we interfere with the body’s response. So if we go from 21C to 45C our body has to work harder to keep adjusting to the environment.

Let’s listen to the wisdom of our elders and slow down a bit in heat waves, do only essential tasks and not expect more than is possible from our air conditioners in extreme weather. Let’s be kind to our bodies, drink more, avoid temperature extremes and dress for the weather.

In looking after ourselves we will be able to look after those in our care who are more vulnerable as their bodies are no longer as efficient at responding. They need more from our community than a one-size-fits-all approach such as setting airconditioners at an unrealistic 21C that makes compressors fail when its 46C outside.

Sara Blunt
Deputy Chief Executive Officer
Eldercare Inc.

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