How to Keep the Elderly Safe During a Heatwave
While heatwaves impact everyone, the elderly are one of the groups most susceptible to heat-related dangers. The reason? According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people 65 and older have a harder time adjusting to sudden temperature changes. In comparison to younger people, they are more likely to have chronic medical conditions or be prescribed medications, both of which can change the body's response to heat. In preparation for the summer months and rising temperatures, Tammy Franks, Senior Program Manager of Home and Community Safety at the National Safety Council, provides information on how to keep elderly family members and friends safe.
Safety at a Distance
When a loved one that's elderly lives alone or at an extensive distance, you're bound to worry and question how much you can really do to help. However, distance is far from a hindrance with proper planning. Franks recommends looking up your loved one's local forecast and talking to them about how to prepare for extreme temperatures. Have them check their air conditioner or, if necessary, purchase a fan online to be shipped to their home. "Remind your loved one to drink plenty of water and avoid going outside. Discuss your concerns with your loved one's neighbor, landlord, or residency director, and ask if they will check in on your loved one during the heat-at least twice a day," said Franks.
In the event of a heatwave, there are always cooling precautions that can be taken. The hottest part of the day tends to be between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. What you're wearing plays a role in body temperature so make sure your loved one chooses outfits that are lightweight, light-colored, and breathable. Have them utilize certain accessories that would help beat the heat. "A wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses will help to minimize exposure," Franks recommended. Staying hydrated and showering, bathing, or sponging down with cool water also proves helpful.
If your loved one has to go outside, be sure it's not for more than a few minutes and that water is always carried so they can stay hydrated. If you or a caretaker is traveling with them by car, absolutely never leave them in a hot car. "While children and pets are most vulnerable, we can all succumb to hyperthermia if we stay in hot cars. Temperatures in vehicles can reach life-threatening levels in minutes. Cracking windows does not help. No one should sit in a hot car, for any length of time," said Franks. When heading out and about, you should plan drop-offs to maximize an older loved one's safety, which includes parking as close the building as possible and walking them to any front door.
Signs of Heat-Related Illness
It's key to know the signs of someone suffering from a heat-related illness. Heat exhaustion often presents flu-like symptoms such as "thirst, fatigue, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, profuse sweating, clammy and pale skin, dizziness, rapid pulse, and slightly elevated body temperature," according to Franks. In a heatstroke, signs include "flushed skin that is hot to the touch, rapid breathing, headache, dizziness, confusion or erratic behavior." While heatstroke can occur anywhere, in any climate, it's most common during hot summer months. NSC analysis shows most heat-related deaths occur in June and July. Always get help in these situations as they can be life-threatening. To avoid any chance of medication that may put them more at risk of elevated body temperatures, you'll want to talk to their doctor about side effects of anything they're taking.
Pack an Emergency Kit
Having a well-stocked emergency kit is a must for every home, regardless of the reason safety precautions need to be taken. Keep in mind that increased electricity consumption can result in blackouts during hotter months, so it's a good idea to pack an emergency kit of essentials for your elderly loved ones. Franks and the National Safety Council recommends keeping a stock of everything you might need for at least three days at home at all times. This includes one gallon of water per person per day; nonperishable, protein-packed food (like peanut butter, tuna, and granola bars) and a can opener; pet food; a hand-crank or battery-powered radio; a flashlight; extra batteries; and a first aid kit (stocked with gauze, tape, bandages, antibiotic ointment, aspirin, a blanket, non-latex gloves, scissors, hydrocortisone, thermometer, tweezers, and instant cold compress). You might also want to keep a tool kit with basic tools, in case you need to shut off utilities, hand sanitizer and garbage bags for sanitation, and plastic sheeting and duct tape in case of broken windows or a leaky roof.