Heatwaves and their impact on people with alcohol, drug and mental health conditions: a discussion paper on clinical practice considerations

Authors

  • Lynette Cusack,

    1. Lynette Cusack PhD RN
      Research Fellow (Population Health)
      School of Nursing and Midwifery, Faculty of Health Science, Flinders University, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
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  • Charlotte de Crespigny,

    1. Charlotte de Crespigny PhD RN
      Professor of Drug and Alcohol Nursing, Joint Chair
      Discipline of Nursing & Drug and Alcohol Services of South Australia, University of Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
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  • Peter Athanasos

    1. Peter Athanasos BSc (Hons) RGN RPN
      Lecturer, Coordinator of Addiction and Mental Health Programs
      Discipline of Nursing, University of Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
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L. Cusack: e-mail: lynette.cusack@flinders.edu.au

Abstract

cusack l., de crespigny c. & athanasos p. (2011) Heatwaves and their impact on people with alcohol, drug and mental health conditions: a discussion paper on clinical practice considerations. Journal of Advanced Nursing67(4), 915–922.

Abstract

Aim.  This article discusses the clinical implications of adverse health outcomes derived during heatwaves for people with mental health disorders, substance misuse and those taking prescribed medications such as lithium, various neuroleptic and anticholinergic drugs.

Background.  With climate change it is predicted that the incidence of prolonged periods of extreme heat will increase. Specific adverse health outcomes associated with high environmental temperatures include heat stroke and heat exhaustion. Those at increased risk for heat-related mortality are those with chronic health conditions, including those with mental health disorders and substance misuse.

Data sources.  Sources of evidence included and ‘grey’ literature published between 1985 and 2010, such as key texts, empirical research, public policies, training manuals and community information sheets on heat waves.

Discussion.  Current clinical practice and clinical impact of heatwaves on those people with comorbidity is explored. This includes the physiological components of heat stress, heat regulation, and the impact of alcohol and other drugs; and, ramifications and professional practice issues for those with mental health conditions and those requiring mental health medications.

Implications for nursing.  Client education covering modification of the environment and the use of client heat safety action plans. Secure, accessible stores of prescribed medication are recommended and emergency substance withdrawal kits could be made available.

Conclusion.  All nurses have a responsibility to increase the capability and resilience of their clients to manage their chronic health needs during a heatwave. At these times nurses need to give extra monitoring and assistance when clients lack the capacity or resources to protect themselves.

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