Report: last summer’s heatwave caused 380 premature deaths

There's new advice on how to prepare for more hot summers in the future, especially for anyone who is older, or stuck in their homes.

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File picture of elderly couple / Credit: iStock

Last summer’s heatwave, the second hottest on record, caused around 380 premature deaths in Finland. That’s the conclusions in a new report out this morning by the Institute for Health and Welfare THL.

The figure is based on research by experts where deaths were examined over a 24-day period in July and August, and showed that for people over 65 there was a 14% increase in mortality, compared to a normal summer.

The findings are similar to an early study in 2014 during a hot spell when researchers estimate 330 people died prematurely as a result of prolonged hot weather that year.

Changing weather patterns in future

Hotter summers and well as related harmful health effects are likely to increase as a result of climate change and population ageing in the coming years, the THL report finds.

“During heat waves, there is a spike in mortality among residents in healthcare and social welfare inpatient facilities as well as the older people living at home. Particularly inpatient facilities should be better prepared for hot weather, as their population is vulnerable to the adverse effects of hot weather” says researcher Virpi Kollanus.

The new THL report finds that one particular area where care facilities should be looking to make improvements is how to control the temperature inside buildings.

One obviously improvement would be to install air conditioners, in case passive cooling techniques – like opening windows – are not enough to beat the heat.

“Inpatient facilities are advised to consider the risks related to a heat wave well before the start of the warm season. Every facility should draw up a plan that includes preparation measures and instructions for staff. The facilities should be able to cool at least some of their spaces if necessary” Kollanus notes.

File photo of woman holding elderly woman’s hand / Credit; iStock Photo

How to prepare for people living alone

Preparations are also needed for those elder people who are living alone at home, and those who suffers of long-term illnesses.

During prolonged heat waves, it would be good to add more visits to people who are being cared for in their own homes, and try to keep houses as cool as possible.

“Home care providers should visit their clients more frequently during prolonged heat waves. If the dwelling of an older person gets considerably hot, temporarily placing the person in an inpatient unit or with relatives might be a good alternative”, says Kollanus.

Ways of keeping homes cool should be considered before the hot weather strikes, says the report.

“Covering sun-facing windows to prevent the sun from shining indoors during the day provides an effective approach for lowering indoor temperatures at home. You should only open windows and let the air in your home at evenings or nights, once the outdoor air has cooled” Kollanus says.

Fans are also sufficient in cooling indoor air – but only if temperatures are lower than 35°C. However if the temperature is warmer, fans are more inconvenient than useful.

If the apartment heats up easily, th report recommends to install a removable cooling device or air heat pump for those people who are most at risk.

THL also advises that during prolonged periods of heat, everyone can also consider offering assistance to the people who have impaired ability to move, which makes it difficult to prepare for the disadvantages of heat.