It’s hard to imagine during the cold days of January, but the record-breaking temperatures of last summer led to an increased number of deaths in the over-65s. An estimated 892 elderly people died as a result of the extreme heat, according to official figures from Public Health England.
These cases qualify as ‘excess deaths’, which means they fall outside of the normal range expected for the time of year and are therefore likely to have occured due to the hot weather. The hottest day ever recorded was on July 25th 2019 when temperatures reached 38.7°C at the Botanic Garden in Cambridge.
Most of the excess deaths were recorded in the week between July 21st and 28th, when 572 succumbed to the heat. These official figures highlight the risk to life of a warming climate and the importance of ensuring elderly relatives and friends have systems in place to help them cope.
Public Health England has produced a report about the findings, stating that heatwaves have a ‘significant health impact’ on the country. The Met Office defines a heatwave as a period of three days or more of an area recording its maximum day temperature.
The threshold is different in places across the country, with a consistent 25°C in Scotland, the north and Wales denoting a heatwave. In London, the mercury must hit 28°C and stay there for three days in order for it to count.
Two other heatwaves were detected last summer, with June 28th to 30th resulting in no excess deaths. An estimated 320 additional people died as a result of the heat from August 23rd to 29th, highlighting how common such events are becoming.
While hot weather can be uncomfortable for many, the risks of overheating, dehydration and heatstroke can be particularly dangerous for vulnerable groups, such as the elderly. Feeling breathless, dizzy or weak are common consequences of these heat-induced conditions and can be fatal, as the statistics from last summer show.
Care homes for the elderly have systems in place to help their residents during hot weather, but there’s additional things relatives can do. Homemade ice lollies can help to keep individuals cool and hydrated, while a wet towel applied to the neck is also an effective method.