Principal Investigator: Professor Charmaine Childs

Lead institution: Sheffield Hallam University

Award amount: £84,757

Assessment of thermal comfort in old and frail older people living in care homes: a feasibility study

This grant was awarded to Professor Charmaine Childs in September 2016 and seeks to evaluate the thermal comfort of older people in residential care home settings. This will be achieved by testing whether a non-invasive, infrared thermography technique, using a thermal camera, is a feasible tool for identifying whether a resident is too cold or too hot instead of asking them to report on their own thermal comfort.

This is a key issue to address because thermal comfort is important for well-being and health. Currently, there is little guidance on how to address the thermal comfort requirements of older people, despite the fact that it can vary quite significantly from one person to the next. This problem is amplified in residential care homes, where older people often spend a proportion of their day sharing the same indoor environment.

When people of different ages, gender and health conditions share the same space, how often are they asked: are you comfortable, is the room too warm or is it just right? Their perception of thermal comfort will depend on frailty, clothing, medications and activity, which will differ for each resident.

For those who are unable to communicate their feelings and preferences about temperature comfort, how do care homes know if they are comfortable, who makes that assessment and how is it made? Carers have said “it is all a matter of guess work”. For those residents with dementia, they might not be able to adopt behaviours to change their body temperature and their self-report of thermal comfort is often unreliable.

This project is looking to take away the “guess work” from thermal comfort assessment by using a thermal camera to detect heat from the skin. From the thermal picture, they will be able to “see” the temperature of different areas of the body. In this study the research team are mainly looking at the temperature of the hands, wrists, nose and earlobes because these areas of the body help in the regulation of body temperature.

The research group have started to analyse the body temperature of older people in residential care homes in the Sheffield/South Yorkshire area. Residents were asked to sit comfortably in the communal room at their respective care home with hands placed on an insulated mat, with a paper template to rest on and with fingers apart (see photos). Images were taken of the dorsum of the hand, the palmar surface and then the nose and ears. Residents were asked to rate their thermal comfort on a scale and lastly to gain a measure of body temperature, the temperature of the ear was recorded.

The potential benefits of the study for residents (and carers) are considerable:

  • A new method of thermal comfort assessment
  • A new health and thermal comfort screening technique with application for older people with communication difficulties, cognitive impairment and dementia
  • Knowledge of the factors that influence thermal comfort in the context of a residential care home
  • Links to widening engagement with residential care home professionals and with the National ENRICH (Enabling Research in Care Homes) network

Co-applicants on the grant are: Dr Sally Fowler-Davis, Dr Ali Ali, Dr Khaled Khatab, Dr Jon Willmott and Ms Susan Hampshaw