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We just experienced a few days of extreme heat, primarily in the mid-west and the east. As one would expect, there were a few deaths from the heat. Heat causes more deaths each year than hurricanes, lightening, tornadoes, floods and earthquakes combined. The elderly is at the top of the list of people who are prone to heat illnesses and death. And it is not just their health status that puts them at risk. It is also their environment and social factors that impact their risk.
Those over the age of 65 are especially prone to dying from the heat. Their systems cannot handle extremes or sudden changes in heat like a younger person can. They often take medications that aggravate dehydration. Diuretics are the best example (don’t stop your medications without checking with your health care provider). Older people may not recognize that they are thirsty and the early warning signs of dehydration are often missed. Some may avoid drinking extra water to keep from going to the bathroom or to stop urine leaks. The elderly has many challenges when it comes to the heat.
Some of the answers to heat problems are rather obvious. Drink more water. Take cool baths. Use damp, cool clothes on your skin. Doing these things are helpful but may not keep you out of trouble.
What about other factors that are even more difficult to control? The best way to avoid heat related problems is to have air conditioning. What if you have no air conditioning? Fans help, but are not enough in extreme heat conditions. What if you are isolated and there is no one to call if you get into trouble? What if you are on fluid restriction because of heart or kidney disease? Do you know what to do in that situation? It is best to have a plan before you are forced to deal with a heat issue.
Here are some tips to follow in addition to the obvious ones to prevent heat related injury or death:
- If no air conditioning – Find out if your community has an air-conditioned shelter for people with no air conditioning. The Red Cross can tell you this. Those who have trouble paying utility bills can contact their utility company to see if they qualify for the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program. This is a government program. The main number is 1-866-674-6327.
- If you are alone – Find someone, a neighbor or friend if no family, who can check on you regularly. That way, if you get into trouble you will be able to get help.
- If you use social media – Facebook and Twitter are a great way to communicate with others and get help if you need it. Social media is a good way to monitor the situation and stay up-to-date on changes.
- If you are on a fluid restriction by your heart provider or kidney provider, call and ask what to do to prevent dehydration.
Image from Centers for Disease Control.
To learn more about heat and older adults: https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/older-adults-heat.html
For information on how to apply for air conditioning assistance: https://www.acf.hhs.gov/ocs/resource/division-of-energy-assistance-federal-staff or call 1-866-674-6327. Image from Centers for Disease Control.