Each year, about 400 Americans die from heat waves, according to the Center for Disease Control. Heat is especially dangerous for the elderly and chronically ill.
In the warmer seasons, temperatures can vary a lot in a 24-hour period. Depending on where you live, the temperature can vary by as much as 20 degrees Fahrenheit from day to night.
After gathering data from chronically ill Medicare recipients from 1985-2006, Harvard researchers concluded that irregular temperature variations could increase the annual death toll of the elderly by 10,000 or more.
Even a temperature increase by less than 2 degrees Fahrenheit can increase a senior’s risk of death by as much as 4 percent. The severity of the risk varies depending on which health condition the senior suffers from. The Harvard study found that seniors suffering from heart disease, heart failure, diabetes and chronic lung disease were more susceptible to these changes in temperature.
“Older people and those with chronic health conditions have a harder time thermo-regulating and acclimating to heat,” says Antonella Zanobetti, PhD, a senior research scientist for the Harvard School of Public Health and co-author of the study.
As this summer continues, we should prepare for longer and stronger heat waves than usual. This doesn’t mean that seniors and their caregivers have to hide out in their homes to avoid the heat, though. It simply means that they should be more careful in planning any outdoor activities.
If you want to sit outside or go for a walk with your senior, suggest they wear breathable, lightweight clothes and a sun hat to block the sun, and have plenty of water on hand. It’s also always a good idea to stay under trees so you can be in the shade where it is cooler.
Marie E. Littrell is the Administrator of Park View Meadows, assisted living by Americare, in Murfreesboro. She can be reached at 615.907.5800 or firstname.lastname@example.org.