The University of Wollongong has recently conducted a three-year research project, to determine the impact of thermal comfort in aged care facilities.

The World Health Organisation has identified that older people should not be exposed to temperatures lower than 20°C and around 24°C is a ‘comfortable’ temperature during winter months.

Using high-tech, wheeled-walkers fitted with temperature, humidity and air velocity sensors, temperatures were collected from five aged care facilities in the Illawarra.

Temperature control is of particular concern for people with dementia, as the frequency and intensity of agitated behaviours increase when residents are exposed to uncomfortable air temperatures.

The current rules governing the accreditation of aged care facilities in Australia refer to the need to provide ‘comfortable internal temperatures and ventilation’, although there are no specific temperature ranges recommended.

Thermal design using modern architectural practices and maintenance and effective control of heating and cooling systems is ideal, however many facilities are old or repurposed buildings.

It is also important to balance the needs of aged care workers as they are more active and therefore have higher metabolic rates. The majority of age care workers are women often in the mid 40’s who may be dealing with menopausal heat intolerances.

Keeping warm in winter is of concern for all elderly people, as research has confirmed a direct link between cold weather and higher death rates, especially for those with complex health conditions.

Some tips from include:

  • Creating a warm, draught-free room where you frequently spend time.
  • Consider re-arranging room usage according to summer and winter needs.
  • Use an electric heat pad instead of one that you microwave, to avoid overheating and igniting fires.
  • Wear several layers of thin clothing to trap heat close to the body, that you can adjust by removing so that overheating is prevented. Wear socks with appropriate footwear and something warm on your head.
  • Keep shrubs pruned that block out sun. Use insulated window fittings to reduce warm air loss at night.
  • Wear sensible foot attire that has a rubber sole to avoid trips and falls.
  • Undertake gentle activities that increase circulation, like light cleaning, walking or simple exercises or playing with a pet.
  • Stay hydrated with warm drinks and though a regular intake of water.
  • Engage in social activities with other seniors in warm locations.

The rising costs of electricity is a major concern for all, however spare a thought for our elderly who are attempting to keep warm on reduced incomes, often in larger family homes.