How can we cope with the UK's extreme weather?
6th April 2018
As the country reflects on a cold start to the year, scientists at the University of Brighton are looking to the summer and researching ways older people can avoid heat-related illnesses which claim 2,000 UK lives each year.
The University is appealing to healthy volunteers aged 65 and over to volunteer for exercise testing designed to help older people cope better in the heat.
Kirsty Waldock, PhD student and lead investigator at the University’s School of Sport and Service Management, warned that climate change is likely to increase the number of heat-related illnesses.
She said: “Heat waves in recent years have resulted in increases in visits to hospital emergency departments for the treatment of heatstroke. The earth’s climate is warming and as the mean global temperature rises so does the frequency, severity and duration of heat waves, presenting a significant health risk to the population, with the over 65s being the most vulnerable.
“If effective action to adapt to climate change is not implemented then experts predict a five-fold increase in the number of heat-related deaths in the UK by 2050. Public Health England has provided heat wave guidelines but more specifics are needed.”
Miss Waldock and colleagues, based at the University’s Eastbourne campus, are conducting exercise trials in a specially-designed heat controlled room. Volunteers will receive information regarding their resting blood pressure and heart rate, body composition and individualised exercise responses.
She said: “The aim is to build on my recently-completed research with the over 65s which found that people in this age group didn’t necessarily feel the increased heat. This could be dangerous because if a person does not feel hot and uncomfortable they are less likely to implement cooling strategies to prevent heat illness.
“We have just finished a study into cold water drinking which immediately improves responses to hot environments and the new study will use repeated heat exposures to improve older people’s heat sensitivity.
“We want to continue finding ways for the older population to stay cool, to provide specific guidelines for them to maintain good levels of activity whilst remaining healthy. There is a lack of evidence-based hot weather advice for vulnerable people and we need to study unresolved questions to pave the way for individualised prevention strategies and policy change.”
Dr Neil Maxwell, Reader, Head of the University’s Environmental Extreme Laboratories, said: “The University has an international reputation for research in this field and we collaborate with industry in the development of heat-alleviating products for market. We believe our research could extend to impact those most vulnerable.
“Within our laboratories, we have found both acute and chronic interventions to be effective in alleviating heat strain in healthy, active populations as well as clinical population. In a health-based setting we have found cooling to have therapeutic effects for individuals with Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
“We found that practical pre-cooling using cooling garments reduced physiological and perceptual markers of thermal strain in heat sensitive individuals with MS. We observed meaningful improvements in their walking performance and alleviation of MS-related symptoms.
“Cooling is one of a number of acute interventions that could improve heat sensitivity in vulnerable populations. Our chronic intervention protocols, in the form of repeated artificial heat exposures (heat acclimation), have also resulted in heat-alleviating benefits to healthy active populations. The adaptations result in an increase in heat loss capacity, the person having less strain on their heart and feeling more comfortable in a hot environment. The key aspect of improving heat sensitivity in a vulnerable population is knowing when they require an intervention. Therefore, specific interventions and advice can be provided to alleviate heat strain within the population.”
To volunteer for Miss Waldock’s research, email firstname.lastname@example.org
or telephone 01273 643754.