I did my best this week, but heat waves and brain injuries do not mix. Temperatures in London exceeded 30°C for several days and peaked at 38°C. That is the hottest day in July recorded in the UK.
Some of those with a brain injury will be fine, but for many people temperature extremes can make it harder to mange the symptoms and effects of the injury. Headway UK reports that “A brain injury can sometimes cause problems with temperature regulation making it harder for survivors to control their body temperature.” 1
This is certainly true for me, with both hot and cold. At either extreme I become fatigued easily and my balance & co-ordiation worsen. This makes it hard to keep to my daily structure, which leads to stress. In turn, this triggers the onset of the vestibular migraines which started after the brain bleed.
There are simple ways to manage temperature problems in winter. I start wearing base layers in November and have an array of warm hats, gloves & socks. But summer is a real challenge, especially when our flat remains at 28°C overnight.
Now, I will not have been the only person in London to have had an unproductive week. But add in trying to manage a brain injury and it became a write off. Eating properly went out the window as cooking in a hot flat seemed like an unnecessary torture. Dinner most nights was a sandwich. Any heat source was resented, my husband scowled when we needed to turn on lights. "Not more heat in here!"
Regular exercise was a problem too. After spending 24 hours inside suffering with a heat-induced migraine, I headed out to for a light jog at 9am. Unfortunately it was already 26°C and I ended up lying in the shade trying not to faint.
Why is heat a problem with brain injuries?
The Brain and Spine Foundation have more detail on the reasons behind this heat regulation problem:
“There is a part of the brain called the hypothalamus which is responsible for controlling your body temperature, keeping it at the right temperature in hot or cold conditions. It does this by sending signals to the body to start sweating if it gets too hot, or shivering if it gets cold… Hot temperatures can stop nerve fibres from working properly. This means that sometimes messages cannot get through to and from the brain. Because of this you may experience fatigue, weakness, or problems with balance or vision.” 2
How to cope with excessive heat.
Fortunately, both Headway and the Brain and Spine Foundation offer tips on keeping cool with an ABI. Some of these will be familiar to everyone: keep hydrated, avoid the hottest part of the day. Others are specifically for people with ABI such as a reminder to keep scars protected from the sun and to check medication for any possible side effects in hot weather.
Despite following all of these tips, not a lot was ticked off the to-do list this week. Sometimes we just have to cut ourselves some slack, lay on a cool wooden floor in front of a fan and drink iced water until normal service resumes.
- Hot weather after brain injury. https://www.headway.org.uk/about-brain-injury/individuals/brain-injury-and-me/hot-weather-after-brain-injury-tips-for-keeping-cool/ Accessed 27th July 2019 ↩︎
- Heat sensitivity and hot temperatures. https://www.brainandspine.org.uk/information-and-support/health-and-lifestyle-tips/heat-sensitivity-and-hot-temperatures/ Acessed 27th July 2019 ↩︎