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4 life-threatening summer health risks and how to prevent them

Australian summers are among the most extreme in the world, and this comes with associated health risks for seniors. Here, we run through a few to keep in mind and share tips on how to stay safe and healthy.

Extreme heat can affect anybody, but those most at risk include older people, young children, and people with a medical condition.

The resulting illnesses can range from mild conditions, such as rashes or cramps, to very serious conditions such as heatstroke, which can be fatal.

CEO of Melbourne community health service Connect Health & Community, Amanda Murphy, says the heat-related dangers faced by seniors during the summer months are simply a fact of nature.

“The lead-up to Christmas and warmer weather can highlight for some older people that they need additional help with tasks, especially things like Christmas shopping, cooking, or preparing their homes for visitors,” she says.

“Heat stress is a very real risk, and with predictions of extreme heat and the fact older people’s bodies simply can't handle the hot as well as younger people, it is important to make sure they are okay.”

Here are five dangers that can lead to heat stress with tips on how to prevent them.

1. DANGER: Dehydration

A healthy body temperature is around 37°C. Our body maintains this by temperature in summer by sweating. However, as we age, we become dehydrated more easily, which lowers our ability to regulate body temperature with sweat.


Drink water. Lots of it. Quite simply, drinking water is the best way to prevent dehydration. It sounds obvious, but it’s easy to forget over the course of the day. Even if you don’t feel thirsty, and even if you’re not being particularly active that day, it’s critical that you drink plenty of water in summer. Avoid alcoholic or sugary drinks, too.

2. DANGER: Sun exposure

The hottest parts of the day – namely, from 11am to 3pm – are the most dangerous parts of the day, and they can be deadly in summer.


As much as possible, stay out of the sun during the summer and particularly during these danger hours. If you are heading outdoors, protect yourself with sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses, and wear lightweight, breathable clothes. Seek shade wherever possible.

3. DANGER: Lack of airflow

Those who live in, or are exposed to, hot and poorly ventilated conditions are more likely to suffer from heat stress and heat-related illnesses.


The best solution, of course, is to have air conditioning in your home, but if you don’t have this option then there are still things you can do. Keep the blinds or curtains drawn during the hottest part of the day to keep out the heat, and open them up in the evening to let in cool air. This will help to regulate the temperature of the home to an extent. Invest in a fan – they are cheap and you can move them with you wherever you go. Wet towels are a great option too. On extremely hot days, consider visiting an air-conditioned public space like a shopping centre or cinema during the hottest part of the day.

4. DANGER: Overexertion

You obviously don’t want to be completely inactive during the summer months, as this comes with its own risks. However, “going too hard” can lead to overexertion, which can be extremely dangerous.


Where possible, restrict physical activity – e.g. playing sport, gardening, renovating, even going for a walk – to the cooler parts of the day. If you start to feel dehydrated or show other symptoms of heat stress, don’t be afraid to take a break and ask for help if needed. Be sure to eat well too to maintain your energy levels – it’s best to eat smaller meals a few times a day, and to avoid hot meals where possible and give preference to cold meals like salads.

As always, the above advice is general and circumstances can vary from person to person. For the best advice relating to your individual circumstances, speak with your medical professional.