How community-based support could help protect ageing Australians against the heat

happy asian seniors walking on the beach

Australia’s recent heatwave saw fires raging in Tasmania and the mercury rise to 46 in Adelaide, the hottest temperature on record for a capital city, according to the Bureau of Meteorology. On one day in January, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the hottest 15 places on earth were all in Australia. There’s no doubt about it, we are living in an age of extreme weather events. But while spring promises a welcome change, it’s important to ensure the right networks are in place to support ageing Australians to adapt to the physical and psychological impact of life in a hot country.

As record-breaking temperatures become the norm, we’re seeing subtle shifts in lifestyle that impact everyone, but in particular, ageing Australians. In this context, access to a flexible, affordable support network is crucial to ensuring that vulnerable people in our society are protected. Mable, an online platform where you can find and directly hire independent care workers in your local community, can provide that essential lifeline.

Most commonly understood is how susceptible elderly people are to changes in temperature, particularly in light of the fact that they will often be managing other health conditions which could be exacerbated by extreme heat and cold. As we age, our ability to register changes in our body temperature decreases and we are at greater risk of dehydration. We’re all guilty of underestimating the impact that the summer sun can have until it’s too late. A simple task like catching public transport, gardening or taking a walk in the middle of the day at the height of summer can easily expose older people to heat exhaustion, which can quickly escalate into heat stroke.

But it’s not just the physical effects of temperature extremes that we should be aware of. Our changing climate is pushing people indoors; in summer, under the protective blast of an air conditioner and in winter the comfort of a climate controlled environment. Increased isolation can follow, with many at risk of losing contact with their communities for extended periods of time, spending little to no time outdoors and away from much needed support networks and community and public services. Exercise, even incidental, like walking to the store, is often sacrificed in the face of intense weather.

For pensioners or those on low incomes, this isolation can be compounded by little access to cool or affordable transport options. For these Australians, even staying indoors can’t always provide relief, as they feel the pinch of trying to keep their homes cool for extended periods.

How we can protect older Australians in extreme weather?

Firstly, it’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of heat stroke. The Australian Government’s Health Direct lists, amongst others, confusion, shortness of breath, dizziness, headache and intense thirst as key indicators. But support can come in many forms, and as well as being vigilant about the health and wellbeing of neighbours, friends or relatives, there are a number of other ways to be proactive about protecting our loved ones;

– providing transport options for those who might be at risk when catching public transport,

– making sure their fridge is stocked by helping with the groceries, or to prepare meals,

– having a registered nurse visit regularly to check on their general health and wellbeing and ensure they’re drinking enough fluids,

– making sure they’re not in an environment that presents a risk to their health, or

– providing company for people at risk of social isolation.

While summers of record-breaking temperatures look set to continue, families supporting ageing relatives can face difficulty in providing the regular support that’s needed.

Mable’s online platform gives you access to hundreds of independent care workers, nurses or people providing social and domestic support to people who need it within their communities.

Concerned about the health and safety of a loved one? Build a local support network who can make sure they’re taken care of. See who’s available in their area today by searching here.