Effective interventions to prevent heatwaves, research

by prof. Henk Rosendal

Our HOPE-project aims to achieve several goals. One of these is the development of a sound e-learning tool, to support students and caregivers in acting appropriately in periods of extreme heat. Another goal is to develop a database containing good practices. Both goals require robust substantiation. Therefore, a scientific research will be performed, which will be completed with a search in so-called ‘grey’ literature. Grey literature is published informally or non-commercially or remain unpublished. It can appear in many forms, including government reports, statistics, patents, conference papers and even non-written resources such as posters and infographics. Grey literature has not been peer reviewed but may still be good reliable information. Another important source of information will be older adults, who have experienced heatwaves lately. The first preliminary results, which look promising, will be presented underneath.


Our global, main research question was ‘Which individually and community based interventions are effective with respect to preventing complications of heatwaves for older people?’. Scientific databases were investigated using a combination of three keywords: ‘heatwaves’, ‘interventions’ and ‘elderly’. The search was done in English. The same keywords in Dutch, although not combined, were used in searching grey-literature. With respect to elderly, we organized a first focusgroup with citizens from Rotterdam, aged over 70.


A. In scientific database nine recent, and usable publications were found. From these we learned that it has been established (ao) that:

  • Heat exposure is associated with increased risk on cardiovascular and respiratory


  • Healthy people are more able to implement adaptive measures;

Drinking extra water, changing work hours, wearing appropriate clothing, and reducing soda consumption are considered as effective measures;

  • The positive effects of using electric fans, however, have not been demonstrated.

Besides, we noticed that;

  • Most studies concern outdoor temperature, whereas people often tend to stay indoor, where temperatures are higher;
  • Some older people suffer during heatwaves, while others think it was rather pleasant;

B. In Dutch grey literature many measures on different levels were identified. Some of these: Microlevel: drinking extra water, cooling scarfs, moving less, finding cool places, appropriate clothing, lukewarm showers, and electric fans.

Mesolevel: roller-shutters, ventilation (day/night), insulating roofs, and switching off heat producing appliances.

Macrolevel: heat warning systems and plans, painting of asphalt, covering roofs with plants, introduction of streaming water through cities, and stimulating the planting of trees in the inner city.

C. The focusgroup consisted of 8 elderly, who were so kind to exchange their experiences with recent heatwaves. It appeared that they all had their own adaptation-strategies, depending on their physical and housing situation. In a lively conversation several tips and tricks were exchanged, such as:

  • Changing their daily rhythm, less activities in the afternoon
  • Clothing of natural materials (wool, cotton, linen): ‘what helps against cold, also helps against heat’
  • Bottles of water in refridgerator are put into their beds before going to sleep
  • Cooling their houses on the basis of in- and outside temperature: Cooler outside? Open doors/windows. Cooler inside? Closing of doors/windows


Although these results look promising, it cannot be ruled out that using alternative keywords might lead to more usable publications. So we will expand our scientific search in the months to come. With respect to grey-literature: all international partners will perform similar searches in their own language. The same applies to focusgroups, which will be organized in all participating countries.

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