Australians encouraged to be proactive in the face of extreme weather conditions


With many parts of Australia set to experience high temperatures over the coming days, Australians are urged to be proactive in preventing heat-related illnesses with elderly people encouraged to be even more cautious.

It’s estimated around 500 Australians die of heat-related reasons each year[1] with people aged over 65 more at risk than the general population.

Dr Zoe Wainer, Bupa’s Director of Clinical Governance says older Australians are more at risk for various reasons, which can include having a chronic medical condition and taking medication that may interfere with their body's ability to regulate their temperature.

“Anyone can suffer from heat-related illness, but elderly people have a particularly high-risk profile and should be extra vigilant with the help of their family, carers and friends.”

Prevention is the best way to manage heat-related illness, by:

  • Staying hydrated - drink plenty of water or other cool, non-alcoholic fluids, though people who are on limited fluids or diuretic medication (fluid tablets) should check with their doctor
  • Staying cool - stay out of the sun as much as you can, and keep air circulating around you (e.g. with a fan or air conditioner).
  • Taking it easy – rest up, don’t do too much physical activity especially outdoors, and try to keep any activity to cooler parts of the day
  • Using sun protection if you do go outdoors - follow ‘Slip, Slop, Slap' guidelines with lightweight clothes, using sunscreen for exposed skin, and wearing a hat and sunglasses.

For elderly Australians and those caring for older people or young children (who are also at a higher-risk), if symptoms of heat stress are detected the first step is to move the person to a cooler, less humid environment.

“Some obvious signs of heat distress are light-headedness, confusion and general weakness. If not attended to, heat stress can lead to heatstroke which is a medical emergency that requires urgent attention,” said Dr Wainer.

Heatstroke is characterised by paleness, sweating, rapid heart rate, muscle cramps (usually in the abdomen, arms or legs), headache, nausea and vomiting along with dizziness or fainting.

Follow the first aid measures[2] below in the event that the following signs & symptoms and consult a doctor and/or emergency services when required.

Light-headedness/dizziness and fainting 

  • Get the person to a cool area and lay them down.
  • If fully conscious and no signs of heatstroke, increase fluid intake.

Heat exhaustion 

  • Get the person to a cool area and lay them down.
  • Remove outer clothing.
  • Wet skin with cool water or wet cloths.
  • Increase fluid intake if they’re fully conscious and show no signs of heat stroke.
  • Seek medical advice.

Heat stroke

  • Call triple zero (000) for an ambulance.
  • Get the person to a cool, shady area and lay them down while you're waiting for emergency medical help.
  • Remove clothing and wet skin with water, fanning continuously.
  • Do not give the person fluids to drink.
  • Position an unconscious person on their side and clear their airway.
  • If medical attention is delayed, seek further instructions from ambulance or hospital emergency staff.

“When temperatures drop, it’s important people don’t let their guard down as the UV index can remain extreme, even in mild conditions.

“In addition, if you notice any suspicious, new or changing spots on your body that may have been caused by the sun, don’t hesitate to get them checked… it could literally save your life,” said Dr Wainer.

[1] Australia State of the Environment 2016.
 [2] Victorian Government’s Better Health Channel – Heat stress and heat-related illness.

Media reference number: 20/110