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It’s important for seniors to find ways to stay cool

As a large part of the United States has been experiencing extreme heat conditions (high heat and humidity with the temperatures above 90 degrees for several days), older adults need to be especially careful to avoid heat related illness.

During extreme heat, the body works extra hard to maintain a normal temperature, which can lead to death if not immediately addressed. I was struck last week by the death of a man in his 50s from Washington sate who became sick and later died after sunbathing in 110+ degree heat for an hour. Those of us who live in more temperate areas do not realize that heat-related distress can occur quickly and without warning. In fact, extreme heat is responsible for the highest number of all weather-related deaths annually. Humidity increases the feeling of heat, So if you are traveling to areas of the country where they are experiencing usually high temperatures or if the heat comes to WNY know what to do to avoid heat related illness.

Extreme heat can be dangerous for all, but especially for older adults, young children, and people with chronic health conditions. Below are some steps to prepare and stay safe from the heat:

¯ Find air conditioning: In Chautauqua County, we have a list of cooling centers where you can go to get out of the heat or humidity during the hottest part of the day if you do not have air conditioning in your home. Call NY Connects (753-4582) for a list of cooling centers in your area. Another, thought is to go to the grocery or another store during the hottest part of the day usually 12pm to 3pm. While electric fans are comforting, they are not effective means of cooling when it’s really hot out. Consider taking a cool bath, shower, or sponging off with water instead. If you are low income and have a condition that is made worse by the heat, the HEAP cooling program provides a limited number of air conditioner each year to eligible individuals. Contact NY Connects for more information.

¯ Keep your house cool: By drawing the shades or covering windows with drapes. Use Window reflectors by covering cardboard with aluminum foil and putting it over windows to reflect heat back outdoors. Install an attic fan or ventilators to clear the hot air from your home.

¯ Avoid strenuous activities: If yard work and other chores can’t be put off for another day, consider doing them early in the morning or in the later afternoon or early evening rather than during the heat of the day.

¯ Drink plenty of fluids: Water is the best hydrator. I keep a bottle of water close at hand so I am reminded to sip on it throughout the day. If plain water is not appealing to you, try adding lemon or fruit slices or a splash of fruit juice to your water. Soda pop or drinks with caffeine are not the best choices for hydrating but if that’s all you will drink, try mixing half water and half of your favorite drink for increased hydration. Gatorade and other sports drinks are also great for hydrating especially when you are sweating a lot, but water should still be your first choice.

¯ Wear light, looser fitting clothing, preferably cotton. Wear a hat when outside with a brim to shade your face.

¯ Never leave people or pets in a closed car. If outside, find some shade to stand in rather than being in the direct sunlight.

¯ Watch and know the signs for heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.

The signs and symptoms of heat related illness include muscle pains, cramps, or spasms in the stomach arms or legs. As heat exposure continues, these can be accompanied by heavy sweating, paleness, tiredness, dizziness, headache, fainting, nausea and vomiting. These are signs of heat cramps and heat exhaustion and should be addressed immediately to avoid heat stroke, which can be life threatening. If you experience these signs, immediately go into air conditioning or a cooler location. Lay down, remove excess clothing, hydrate, sponge off with cool water to reduce your body temperature. If symptoms continue or get worse call you healthcare provider. Signs of heat stroke include a temperature (by mouth) above 103 degrees; red, hot, dry skin with no sweat; faststrong pulse; dizziness, confusion or unconsciousness. If a person is showing signs of heat stroke call 911 or get them to a hospital immediately. Try to cool down the person by getting them into the shade, sponging them off with cool water or rubbing alcohol, or any method you can think of until medical help arrives. For more information on Heat related illnesses or anything mentioned in this article, visit ready.gov/heat or contact our NY Connects helpline at 753-4582. Remember we are here to help you!

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