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Health Officials Warn Elderly Against Skimping On Air Conditioning

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INLAND EMPIRE

By BVN Staff Report

Inland Counties Open Cooling Centers

Local public health officials say senior citizens have always faced a serious health hazard with Inland valley heat, and now with rising utility costs they're up against difficulties paying for life's necessities during tough economic times. 

Dialing up a thermostat, making fewer long trips, seeking shelter where it's cool - such as malls or senior citizen centers - can help the elderly avoid the pitfalls of Inland summers.  But officials warn there are disadvantages to pinching pennies.  Some older folks on fixed income may not realize that by cutting back - or cutting off - air conditioning and fans they subject themselves to heat exhaustion, heat stroke or even death.

"What may seem like wise cost cutting can literally kill them," says San Bernardino County Public Health Officer Margaret Beed, M.D.

This week Beed issued an extreme heat advisory which directs public health leaders to activate cooling centers to protect residents during extreme hot weather.

Southern California Edison reported a sharp rise in the number of Inland seniors with delinquent bills. "We are particularly concerned about senior citizens on tight budgets" the utility said in a statement this week. 

Edison, the Gas Company and other utilities have instituted programs to help senior citizens having trouble paying their bill. Riverside and San Bernardino Counties also offers help to those who need assistance paying their gas and electric bills. Both counties have programs to let a third party know if someone's bill becomes delinquent.

Retired San Bernardino nurse Lillian Sanders, 76 is worried. She drives to Victorville two days a week to volunteer at a senior center. But soaring gas, food and rising utility bills have forced her to cut back.

"I'm paying about 40 percent more to make the drive, food costs are higher, now to make matters worse, my electric bill has doubled. What are seniors supposed to do? I'm worried. There doesn't seem to be an end in sight," said Sanders.

"I cut the air conditioning off and roll down the windows in my car. When I go home I set the thermostat at around 80 and open the windows when I go to bed. Gas is so high that it may get to the point that I can't make the trip to Victorville as often."

"People who live on fixed incomes have budgeted themselves. Gas prices aren't just going up 4 cents a gallon a month anymore," said San Bernardino County aging specialist Daniel Clyburn. "Seniors are facing the worst of times on fixed income."

He says the best way senior citizens can help themselves is ask for help and take advice long before considering cutting back on necessities, such as electricity and air conditioning.

"They can put out the word on the dangers we face, but we have to be receptive," said Sanders. "Many seniors are just plain stubborn. That's how we survive. I saw it in my parents and to some extent in myself."

Dr. Beed urges seniors to take precautions: Hydrate, drink plenty of water. Carry water in your car. Avoid energy drinks and alcohol. Eat light meals and wear light colored loose clothing.

She says plan ahead, schedule outdoor activities and chores during the early morning or late afternoon. Seniors (those 65 and older) are more prone to heat stress. Elderly people do not adjust as well as young people to sudden changes in temperature. They are more likely to have a chronic medical condition that upsets normal body responses to heat. They are more likely to take prescription medicines that impair the body's ability to regulate its temperature or produce adequate body cooling perspiration.

Riverside and San Bernardino Counties operate cooling centers throughout the region. Contact your local public health department for more information or visit www.bepreparedcalifornia.ca.gov.   

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