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Indoor temperatures in aged care homes could have a dramatic impact on the wellbeing of residents, particularly those with dementia.

A University of Wollongong (UOW) study of five aged care facilities in the Illawarra found varying indoor temperatures of 17.2 degrees to 31.6 degrees.

The World Health Organization recommends older people not be exposed to temperatures lower than 20 degrees. While the International Organization for Standardization advises maximum temperatures not above 26 degrees.

UOW researchers found a comfort band between 20 degrees and 26.2 degrees as appropriate for residents in Australian nursing homes. More than half the residents (53%) in the study were exposed to temperatures colder than those recommended during the warm season. This indicated air conditioning systems were not being operated correctly, according to the researchers.

It was not only for comfort, but indoor temperature affected the wellbeing, health and behaviour of residents, including the frequency and disruptiveness of agitation experienced by people living with dementia, UOW lead researcher Dr Federico Tartarini said.

“Importantly, we found that there was a statistically significant increase in the frequency of agitated behaviour manifested by residents living with dementia for those who were exposed to temperatures outside the comfort band.

“Older people, and in particular those with dementia, may have decreased sensitivity to temperature changes and dementia may impair their ability to adapt to their environment.”

There was very little research into how residents of nursing homes perceived their physical environment as well as a lack of guidelines for thermal conditions for the aged care sector, Dr Tartarini said.

“Until specific guidelines for thermal comfort are developed for the sector, many residential care homes may continue to offer less than optimal thermal conditions which may negatively impact the health and wellbeing of residents and staff.”