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.
I was enjoying some watermelon this morning and it reminded me of a funny story from my mother’s childhood. The family was gathered around, enjoying slices of watermelon when one of my mother’s older siblings warned the others to be careful not to swallow a watermelon seed, otherwise they’d grow a watermelon baby inside their tummy.
While the rest of the family got the joke, my mother did not. She began to worry that she had accidentally swallowed a watermelon seed. She became upset enough that she went to her mother who set the record straight and assured her there were no dangers of melon babies. Nowadays, kids could just Google it or ask Alexa.
The extreme and unusual heat wave that struck parts of the U.S. and Canada recently serves as a reminder to check in on our elder loved ones and make sure they have sufficient relief from the summer heat. Here in the Deep South, we tend to take air conditioning as a standard necessity, but other parts of the country that typically have moderate summer temperatures don’t always have AC units. I learned that the hard way at my parents’ condo in New Mexico. Even with a modern, high-powered fan, it was miserable. While it was merely uncomfortable for me, for those who are older or with certain health conditions, the heat can be life-threatening.
I hope you have a peaceful and pleasant Fourth of July and get to spend time with loved ones.
Summer is here, and while outdoor activities remain in flux due to the coronavirus pandemic, now is a good time to make sure you have your summer safety plan in place.
Every year, several hundred people die from extreme heat, according to the CDC, and the majority of victims are older. Increased heat sensitivity and risks associated with chronic health conditions and prescription medications make older adults more prone to heat-related issues.
Another issue is the lack of air conditioning. My parents’ condo did not have air conditioning, and while summers in their mountain community were generally mild, there were heat waves that would send temperatures soaring into the high 80s and low 90s. After they had passed, I spent a week or so there during one of those heat waves and even with a new fan that I bought, it was very uncomfortable. But what may be uncomfortable for someone younger can be dangerous or even deadly for those over 65 or in poor health.
Even more heartbreaking, some older people on a fixed budget fear the high utility bills associated with running an air conditioner, so even though they have one, they don’t use it.
Here are some things to consider as a caregiver when preparing your elder loved ones for the summer heat:
What are their cooling options at home? Are they adequate? Keep in mind that with coronavirus restrictions, cooling stations that some depend upon in their community may be closed. Have an alternative plan if it becomes too hot for your loved one to stay in their home.
Exercise is still important. Try to arrange walks or other outdoor activities in the early morning or evening hours, when it’s not quite as hot. Keep outdoor activities brief and make sure to bring water so your loved one stays hydrated. Focus on indoor activities like yoga or dancing to keep older adults active.
Provide shade: If possible, provide a shady spot for your loved one to spend time outdoors at home. Make sure elders wear breathable, light-colored clothing and wear a hat when outdoors.
Hydration is key: I found it was tough to get my parents to drink water. It is crucial that older people drink enough water, especially during the summer. Dehydration can occur more quickly than you think and have serious health consequences. Consider adding a lime or lemon slice to sparkling or still water to make it more interesting, or make a pitcher of unsweetened herbal iced tea to encourage extra fluid consumption.