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CDC: Seniors in Jeopardy during Heat Wave Elderly with chronic health problems are especially vulnerable

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By Chris Levister

The minute Curtis Bell stepped into his elderly father’s Perris garage turned apartment Monday he knew something was amiss. “It was like walking into a furnace.” No windows were open and the temperature inside was over 100 degrees.

Hank Bell who suffers from mild dementia and chronic diabetes sat in front of a small fan displaying symptoms of heatstroke,” recalls Curtis. Dizziness, nausea…heavy sweating, weak pulse. “I grabbed him up and sat him in an ice bath and gave him plenty of fluids.” A similar emergency played out a few miles away in Moreno Valley says Casa Hunter, an emergency room nurse. Hunter is credited with saving the life of an elderly woman who was found unresponsive in her modest home near downtown.

The house was equipped with central air but because of her fixed income she uses it reluctantly. In fact says Hunter the temperature inside the house registered 97 degrees. “It was quite frankly a suffocating sauna,” said Hunter Fortunately the elderly woman and Hank Bell are okay, but the incidents serve as a reminder that danger lurks in the sultry dog days of summer.

San Bernardino. Public Health Officer Dr. Maxwell Ohikhuare has declared an Extreme Heat Alert in San Bernardino County through the weekend, as temperatures are expected to exceed 100 degrees in valley areas, and higher in desert regions. Extremely high or unusually hot temperatures can affect your health. On average, 675 deaths from extreme heat events occur each year in the United States. Most vulnerable are the elderly, those who work or exercise outdoors, infants and children, the homeless or poor, and people with a chronic medical condition.

Elderly people are more at risk of heatstroke, heat exhaustion, and dehydration than their younger counterparts are, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For many, the excessive heat is just uncomfortable and sends most scrambling for the respite of a pool or air-conditioned home. But for the elderly, those with medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and low-income individuals who can’t afford air-conditioning or the electricity to power it, heat waves can be extremely dangerous. With the elderly their bodies don’t adjust that well to extreme temperatures, says Chris Porter spokesperson for the CDC. The elderly would also be more likely to have some chronic medical condition or taking some prescription medication that affects their body’s way of cooling itself down, leaving them to basically roast from the inside,” said Porter. He explains diuretics and some heart medication in particular, can affect how well a person’s body responds to the heat.

Should the person be suffering from any sort of chronic disease or not, it is best to get a heat-exhausted sufferer into an air-conditioned room, giving them loads of fluids to drink to get their dehydration levels back up to normal.

Porter suggests an ice-bath, ice water, or ice cream. Drastic measures should be taken if their body temperature continuous to rise, displaying the same symptoms as a person with a high fever. Symptoms of heat exhaustion are slow in development, and many elderly people don’t even realize that they are suffering from heat exhaustion until it’s too late, they are simply under the impression that they are getting terribly hot due to the extremely high temperatures, said Porter. In most cases both, the elderly and younger population doesn’t drink enough liquids, which enhances their difficulty of coping with the extreme weather.

The CDC recommends air conditioning as the best way to prevent heat-related illness and death. People who don’t have air conditioning at home should seek relief with family members or friends, or even at a local mall. Many communities also offer heat-relief shelters or cooling centers. The CDC also offers these safety tips for dealing with the heat:

• Wear light-colored, loose-fitting, breathable clothing.

• Stay indoors as much as possible. Try to limit outdoor activity to morning and evening, and rest often in shady areas.

• Drink often to stay hydrated, and avoid drinks with caffeine, alcohol or sugar.

• Take cool showers or baths.

• Never leave children or pets in a closed, parked vehicle.

• Protect yourself from the sun with a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses and sunscreen – SPF 15 or higher. Put on sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside, and reapply it as directed.

• Use the stove and oven less to keep your home cooler, and try not to eat hot or heavy meals; they add heat to your body.

Help is available for elderly citizens, who are 65 years and older. The Federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, provides assistance with utility bills and getting air conditioners installed. In addition, individuals with a yearly income of $21,600 or less can also apply for help with their current month’s utility bills. This program covers the cost of air conditioners and fans. For more information on LIHEAP, contact the Community Action Partnership of San Bernardino.

Call (909) 723-1500. Toll free (800) 635-4618 -- Weatherization and Energy Assistance. Monday-Thursday 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Friday 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. For emergency assistance call (909) 723-1680. Website: http://www.sbcounty.gov/capsbc/capsbcprograms.html

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