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Public underestimating summer heat risks

Heat risks for older people underestimated by public, new survey shows

- Independent Age launches ‘Summer wise’ guide to help older people stay safe in hot weather –

With summer upon us, large sections of the public are underestimating the dangers posed by even ‘UK-level’ heat, a new survey by older people’s charity Independent Age has discovered. The poll, released to mark the launch of the charity’s Summer wise guide, found that almost three-quarters (71%) of people were not aware that heat-related deaths can start at temperatures as low as 25C.

The Independent Age poll of 2,008 UK adults, carried out by Opinium, also revealed a lack of knowledge around skin protection, with nearly half (49%) of respondents not realising that sunscreen needs to be applied 30 minutes before sun exposure, and again just before going out.

This figure was even higher in people aged over 75 – at 59% – despite this age group being particularly vulnerable to skin damage from the sun.

Independent Age’s free Summer wise guide has been launched to provide accurate advice about how to enjoy the summer while staying healthy and safe.

Lucy Harmer, Director of Services at Independent Age, said that the hotter weather shouldn’t stop older people from getting out and enjoying the summer, but it was important to be aware of the increased health risks.

“While we might think of the UK as having a very mild summer, the reality is that summer temperatures can regularly rise high enough to cause health problems, especially for older people and those with long-term health conditions,” she said.

“Dehydration, heat exhaustion, or skin damage from the sun can be extremely serious, and older people are particularly at risk. Many visits to hospital for heat-related illness can be avoided by taking some simple steps, like staying hydrated, dressing sensibly, and keeping your home cool.

“Our new Summer wise guide is completely free and packed with tips on coping with the summer heat. I’d encourage everyone to order or download a copy, either for themselves or a family member or friend.”

Other key findings of the Independent Age poll carried out by Opinium include:

  • More than four in 10 people believed that UK employees were not obliged to work if the temperature at their office exceeded 30C. In fact, no specific temperature-related regulation exists in the UK.
  • More than two-fifths (43%) of respondents stated that it takes 30 minutes of sun exposure for skin to burn – in reality, sunburn can occur in less than 15 minutes .
  • More than half of respondents (58%) did not know that it was best to keep windows closed if the temperature is cooler indoors than outdoors.
  • 58% of respondents correctly identified cotton as the best type of material to wear to stay cool. However, awareness was higher in older people (72% in those aged 55-74, and 80% in those aged 75 and above).
  • Seven in 10 people (70%) were aware that hot weather could increase the risk of food poisoning, and almost four in five (79%) knew that both UVA and UVB rays could cause skin damage.

Last year’s summer was the joint hottest on record, with large numbers of people hospitalised due to dehydration of heatstroke . The ONS consistently recorded more deaths than average during periods of hot weather – including 649 more deaths than the five-year average in the two-week period from 27 July, when temperatures soared above 30C . And temperatures are likely to be just as high this year, with the Met Office’s long-range forecast for 2019 suggesting close to record warmth this year .

Summer wise includes information about keeping living areas cool, hydration, medications, and a checklist to get your home ready. It is free to order and download from, or can be ordered for free by calling 0800 319 6789.

Top tips to beat the heat

  • Drink more than usual in hot weather even if you’re not thirsty. You need to drink about eight glasses of water a day.
  • If it’s cooler indoors than outdoors, stay inside and help keep the heat out by closing windows and blinds or curtains.
  • Apply sunscreen generously half an hour before going out and again just before you go out into the sun
  • The sun can also cause damage to your eyes, even when it’s not hot or on a cloudy day, so wear sunglasses.
  • Keep in touch with people even if you can‘t go out much, and let them know if you’re feeling unwell. You can also call NHS 111 for advice.
  • Heatwaves can happen suddenly. Listen out for Met Office warnings and get organised before the weather gets hot.

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