Beat the killer heat

It’s already been a sizzler of a summer and it’s only just begun. With months of heat still to come climate scientists are predicting hotter temperatures, and they warn that we should be ready to face more heatwaves as they come around more often.

It’s a forecast seniors, in particular, should take seriously as hot weather kills more people in Australia than other extreme weather hazards such as bushfires, cyclones and storms. In fact, there has been a spike of injuries related to extreme weather in the 10 years from 2012 to 2022, according to a new report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), with extreme heat causing the largest proportion of injuries. And it’s getting worse. The highest number of injuries yet were recorded in the three years from 2019 to 2022.

The report, ‘Let’s talk about the weather: injuries related to extreme weather’, reveals that exposure to excessive natural heat was the most common cause leading to injury hospitalisation – and that’s only including people who were admitted for their injuries, not everyone who turned up to emergency units for treatment – for all states and territories except Tasmania. Queensland topped the list, recording the highest number of hospital admissions related to extreme heat from 2019 to 2022.

While heatwaves can be dangerous for anyone, they’re especially dangerous for older people, as well as young children, outdoor workers and people with a medical condition.

However, there are lots of things seniors can do to beat the heat and keep cool this summer. Here are some tips from the Red Cross.

Before the heatwave

■ Check the weather forecast and prepare ahead for shopping and scheduling appointments. Stock up on food, water and medicines.
■ Talk to your doctor about how the heat might affect you, particularly about your medications. Store medicines safely at the recommended temperature.
■ Identify your support network. Include people who can help you get things you need during and after a heatwave. This could be family, friends, neighbours or a carer.
■ Write down your important numbers (doctors, support network).
■ Know the difference between symptoms of heat exhaustion and heatstroke, which is be a life-threatening condition that needs immediate medical attention, and be aware of how the heat is affecting you.

During the heatwave

■ Even when you don’t feel thirsty, drink plenty of water to help prevent dehydration.
■ Avoid alcohol, tea, coffee and sugary or fizzy drinks as they make dehydration worse.
■ Eat small meals more often, rather than large meals and eat more cold food such as salads and fruit.
■ If you need to go outside, wear light clothing and a hat, put on sunscreen and take water with you.
■ Do daily activities like shopping and gardening early in the day or ask someone to help you. Take care of others during extreme weather

And finally, if you or someone you know shows signs of heat stroke (fits, confusion, staggering), call 000 immediately. Heat stroke is a life-threatening emergency and can cause a person to collapse or fall unconscious.

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