Climate and health are closely interlinked. The effects of climate change directly influence human wellbeing. The German nurses association, the „Deutscher Berufsverband für Pflegeberufe” (DBfK), is drawing attention to this. Heat waves also pose problems for healthcare and nursing facilities, as extreme heat puts people who are elderly or sick at particular risk. In 2003, around 70,000 people died in the course of the Europe-wide heat wave as a result of the climate.
At the same time, the DBfK explains, the healthcare sector contributes significantly to climate change. For example, its C02 emissions are higher than those caused by aviation. The DBfK has recently published an informative brochure, under the title „Nursing and Dealing with Climate Change”(Pflege im Umgang mit dem Klimawandel), which includes extensive information on how to manage extreme heat. There are also tips on what can and should be done in a nursing capacity during the heat. The brochure is available to download on the DBfK website.
Heat as a health risk
Extreme heat particularly affects the following areas:
- Blood pressure and fluid balance
- Heart and circulatory diseases
- Lung diseases and allergies
- Postoperative wound healing
Increased cardiovascular decompensation, kidney failure due to dehydration, or increased susceptibility to stress are just three of many scenarios that can arise from extreme heat. Furthermore, mosquitos or ticks can lead to an increase in the number of contagious diseases, just as lung disease can be caused by breathing in nitrogen oxide from industrial areas. Wound infections also occur more frequently in warm months than during cold seasons. Side effects of medication and medical devices can also worsen as a result of the temperature.
Symptoms for both a heart attack and a more harmless heatstroke include sweating fits, exhaustion, dizziness, fainting fits (initially when getting up, or increasingly thereafter), nausea, or vomiting. In order to prevent these, you should drink plenty of water, not put strain on your circulation through alcohol or smoking, wear appropriate clothing, and stay out of the sun to avoid overheating. Groups that are particularly vulnerable to risks associated with loss of fluid include elderly people, people in need of care, but also newborn babies and young children.
Preventative measures against heat in nursing
Many nursing homes have already taken precautions against heat waves in the past, for example in relation to the arrangement of the resident or patient’s room, protecting appliances from overheating, altering the menu by offering specific drinks, or storing medication and medical devices.
There are also further precautions that the relevant organisations can take in order to help facilitate work at high temperatures. Here is a short excerpt from the list (Brochure, p. 12f):
- Adhering to occupational safety regulations and ensuring employees have sufficient breaks.
- Providing free drinks for everyone, lightweight work clothes and changes of clothes. Well-ventilated changing rooms and shower facilities.
- Cooling rooms with ventilators, modern air conditioning, shading, and insulation of the top floors.
- Clear code of practice regarding the structuring of workloads to relieve staff. Training staff.
Furthermore, it would be desirable for the organisation to have a consistent approach to climate protection. Through saving resources, saving energy, sensible waste management, and sustainable management, healthcare facilities can help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Which tasks in care and nursing are particularly important?
The following is a list of activities through which nursing staff can help the residents of nursing homes find solutions against the heat (Brochure, p. 13 – excerpt)
- Explanation of the dangers of climate change.
- Advising patients/residents regarding the correct behaviour and sufficient intake of fluids during hot spells.
- Replacing bedding with lighter bed sheets.
- Airing out rooms in the morning, evening, and night.
- Using all means available to create a comfortable room temperature (air conditioning, fans etc.).
- Refreshing washes, bathing feet and arms.
- Providing ice cubes, water ice, cold drinks, iced fruit soup, or fresh fruit.
- Turning off appliances after use.
- Drink breaks and changes of clothing to ensure your own safety.
- Adapting work routines, nursing measures, and care services.
- If necessary, individual nursing measures, depending on the situation of the residents/patients.
The brochure is available to download on the website of the DBfK.