Here in Atlanta we are looking at a brutal heat wave, with temperatures expected to be in the mid-90s for the next couple of weeks. Summer begins officially on June 21, but in some parts of the country it has arrived early.
It’s important this time of year to check in on elder loved ones and neighbors. No one should be dying of heat exposure in their homes in our modern times, yet each year, heat-attributed deaths occur. Those at greater risk include elders, those with pre-existing health conditions and those in public or institutional housing which may not have adequate air conditioning.
I would note another factor, which may be the most tragic of all. Some elders may have air conditioning, but are afraid to turn it on because of the cost. That’s why it’s important to check in and make sure your elder loved one’s homes are adequately cooled. Fans may not be enough in areas experiencing a prolonged spell of extreme heat. Check with local officials to see if public cooling stations are available.
While I expect long, hot and humid summers in Atlanta, this spring and beginning of summer has been particularly brutal. Atlanta has already recorded stretches of 90-plus degree weather and the summer season has just started. I was taking a look at the national map and it looks like much of the country is experiencing hot temperatures.
That’s why I thought it was a good time to remind everyone to check in on elder relatives and neighbors more often during periods of extreme heat. As I wrote in this article last year that was posted on The Caregiver Space, seniors can be stingy when it comes to their use of air conditioning. Some of this comes from frugal living during tough economic times, when thing like AC were considered modern luxuries. But in some parts of the country, fans may not be enough to battle the heat. (I learned this the hard way when I stayed at my parents’ condo in New Mexico, which doesn’t have air conditioning, and had to endure 90-degree weather.)
Here are some simple tips that can mean the difference between life and death during the summer months:
If your elder loved one lives independently, check in on them more often during heat waves. Ask how they are holding up. Are they using air conditioning or fans?
If possible, visit in person, or have a neighbor, caregivers or family friend visit. Make sure elders in the residence aren’t showing any signs of excessive heat exposure. Seniors can be more susceptible to heat stress, according to the CDC.
Hydration is key. It was always a struggle to get my mother to drink enough water, and I’ve found this is a common trait among seniors, compared to my generation which seems to carry around a water bottle everywhere.
Monitor seniors’ activities to make sure they are not overdoing it when the forecast predicts extreme temperatures. Encourage any physical activity early in the day before the weather heats up.
Encourage the use of community cooling centers.
In this day and age, no one should die because of a heat wave. Yet every year, we read of tragic cases, many involving older people. This is one of those situations where it indeed “takes a village” to make sure people stay safe.