As summer approaches, with predictions of record breaking temperatures, preparation for protecting those in aged care facilities is paramount.
The Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA) announced on the back of a recent study by Monash University’s Department of Epidemiology and Preventative Medicine the urgency of taking precautionary measures when caring for the elderly.
The study, by Judith McInnes and Joseph Ibrahim, has been published in the Australian Health Review and the AHHA’s academic journal. It explains that heatwaves are a major killer of the country’s elderly population.
“This study highlights the importance for all aged care facilities to have an actionable plan to minimize the impact of rising temperatures during the warmer months,” said AHHA chief executive Alison Verhoeven.
The study says that over the past 200 years more than 4,000 deaths have been caused by heatwaves. This is twice the number of deaths from cyclones or floods, and is likely to rise with global warming.
Following the recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which says temperature increases are caused by humans and likely to continue, the crucial act of preparation is undeniable. Australia’s annual daily temperatures have increased by 0.9°C since the 1950s and are predicted to rise up to 4°C by the year 2100.
Longer and hotter summers increase the need for preparation by designers, architects and carers to ensure that living conditions are safe and comfortable during the heat, especially for those that require additional care in their daily lives.
Australia has an aging population, with 27 per cent of the population expected to be over 65 years of age by 2036.
The aged population is at higher risk of being affected by heatwaves due to several factors including lower mobility, cognitive impairment, low capacity for thermoregulation, and additional health issues. The thermoregulatory function of the body declines as we age which is the ability to discriminate between heat and cold. This negatively affects elderly people’s ability to take action to reduce the adverse effects of the heat.
McInnes and Ibrahim interviewed representatives from health service campuses in regional Victoria to find out how the aged-care sector can best prepare for imminent heatwaves.
Preparatory measures included the development of heatwave plans which detail applicable protocols for staffing, resident care, environmental controls, appropriate supplies, equipment and maintenance during periods of extreme heat. Preparing early with innovative ideas means anticipating a temperature rise and altering care accordingly before the effects of the heatwave are felt by the elderly.
Like any healthcare facility, aged care facilities should also have efficient air conditioning, a backup power generator, fans, and regular maintenance servicing.
The infrastructure of aged care facilities varies from modern buildings to outdated buildings across the country.
Most rural facilities studied had aluminum or steel roofs, which can lead to high internal temperatures unless well-insulated. To mitigate poor infrastructure such as heat-raising roofing, many facilities painted the roof with a reflective paint as a cost-effective preventative measure.
As temperatures rise with the change of season, and as more Australians enter aged care facilities it is critical to ensure the wellness of the population is maintained through effective planning and preparatory measures for periods of extreme heat.