Older People At Risk From Heatwave Advice

Posted on: 10 July 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

When temperatures rise, check that your older neighbours, friends and relatives are eating sufficient salt.

As temperatures rise this summer, older parents and relatives could be at risk if they do not keep  their salt intake up.  

The warning from the Salt Association echoes growing independent concern from bodies such as Help the Aged that the elderly are being urged to drink water but not to maintain the sodium without which they can be vulnerable to heart attacks and strokes.

The latest Department of Health “Heatwave Guide” to looking after yourself in hot weather simply mentions heat exhaustion as a result of water or sodium depletion, but gives no advice on the importance of maintaining sodium and other electrolyte levels. And NHS Direct similarly offers no advice on keeping up your salt intake in a heatwave.

“This is an issue where urgent, authoritative advice is needed,” says Salt Association general secretary, Peter Sherratt.

“Many older people have cut back on salt as a result of the Government’s blanket advice and they could now be seriously at risk.”

This view is echoed by Wouter Lox of EuSalt, the European Salt Producers’ Association. 

“A number of physiological changes occur as part of the ageing process,” he explains.  “These combined with an increased risk of general illness and the resulting medication, all make older people more susceptible to an electrolyte and water imbalance.”

“A recent paper suggests that polypathia (a multiplicity of illnesses) in older people is frequently associated with an inadequate supply of sodium. It highlights the importance of improving fluid intake and not restricting salt intake.”

Amongst the experts who have raised the issue is leading physiologist Professor Bill Keatinge, who has recommended that elderly people maintain their intake of both water and salt during heatwaves, when heat-related deaths typically increase by 50%.

In just one week of the hot summer of 2003, over 2,000 deaths in Britain and almost 15,000 in France were linked to the weather. Many were elderly. The World Meteorological Organization estimates that the number of heat-related deaths could double in less than 20 years.

Heat stress causes loss of salt and water in sweat, which thickens the blood and can lead to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. 

Hot weather may reduce appetite, but not eating regularly can lead to a salt deficiency. The sodium in salt is important for muscle function and helps to maintain the fluid balance within the body.

Professor Keatinge advises that older people should maintain their salt levels by continuing to eat the balanced diet that they normally would. To avoid dehydration, they should drink plenty of water when thirsty.

Meanwhile, Help the Aged advises the public to look out for older relatives and neighbours in the hot weather. A key recommendation is to maintain salt intake and drink lots of water.

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