Every year there are numerous heat waves that hit all parts of the country. Sometimes there is extreme heat in the more traditional northern states or cities as well, such as New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Seattle, etc. No matter where you live, anytime the temperature hits 90 or higher or the humidity picks up, be sure to check in with any vulnerable neighborhoods.
The EPA (Environment Protection Agency) reports how many elderly people die each year in heat rated events. While the number fluctuates, it ranges from 300 – 400 per year. Granted this is not a huge number when put into context of the entire population of the United States, but this is preventable. It is also much higher than the number of deaths that result from other highly reported events, such as terrorism to name but one.
What can you do to help prevent this?
Maybe the simplest thing to do is to check in on anyone that is say over the age of 60 and in poor health. Or if the person is in decent health, maybe you can check in with them if they are in their late 60s. In general the better the senior citizen’s health, the less likely they will be impacted by a heat wave. But it always a good idea to check in.
You can just reach out to them. Make sure their air conditioner is on and has been tuned up. Or if they do not have air conditioners, make sure they have some type of efficient cooling fan(s). Check in to see that their freezer is working so they have ice, that they have tap as well as bottled water on hand so they can remain well hydrated, make sure their phone is working, etc. Ensure their utility service is in good standing so that their electricity is not turned off. If they need financial aid or support such as fans, then find cooling bill assistance programs.
Also, leave your contact information. Insist that if they need anything that they can just call you, or in a crisis dial 911. Check in more than once on your neighbors or others too until the heat wave abates. If it stays hot and humid, check in daily if need be.
Look for signs of heat related illness as well. They include some or all of the following. Vulnerable people may be susceptible to heat rash or exhaustion, sunburn, heat cramps, dehydration, and heatstroke. Many of the hundreds of deaths are caused by exhaustion or heatstroke. So those are the highest risk events for the elderly, but they can be impacted by any issues.
It is key to look for the symptoms. While a doctor or medical professional can be consulted if need be, the most common include muscle cramps, headache, fatigue, heavy sweating, weakness, paleness, cold or clammy skin, dizziness, nausea, and, in some cases, unexpected fainting. Once again, if you are not sure what these symptoms may look like, call a medical professional. Or if there is any question on the health of the senior, call a professional…do not hesitate. Or in an emergency, always feel free to dial 911.
If the senior citizens lacks some way to stay cool in their home (such as maybe the lack AC units, a fan, or their electricity is off), then get the senior someplace safe. Many cities have “cooling centers”. This is where someone can go to stay cool and get out of the heat. They often are given water, food, and other support. There are often recreational activities held for them as well, such as they can play cards or games, watch TV, and in general relax.
Heat waves come and go. Some are sustained, some are short term in nature. No matter where you live, or what your background is, it is easy to check on a vulnerable senior citizen. Every time you do you may in fact save someone’s life.