Taking Action: Keeping Senior Citizens Safe in Extreme Heat

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) -- This latest heat wave has been rough on everyone, but senior citizens are particularly vulnerable, so WHNT News 19 is taking action to help keep the elderly safe from the dangers of heat.

Seniors, as well as those with chronic illnesses, do not adjust well to sudden changes in temperature.

"They'll lose a great amount of fluid through perspiration, but in some cases they don't remember to drink frequently," said Magnolia Trace nursing director Troy Roeck. "And in some cases they don't drink enough water initially, which means that they become dehydrated much quicker."

Most retirement communities, like Magnolia Trace in south Huntsville, know how to keep their elderly residents safe from rising temps.

"We kind of monitor the frequency in which they show up for meals, the amount of time that they spend outside. And when we don't see those people out as often, we try to have checks on them," said Roeck.

But many seniors who live alone rely on others to help them out.

CASA Executive Director Ann Anderson says the key is to not get heated when warning seniors about the heat.

"You have to approach them lovingly, and not this, 'you must do this, Mama or Daddy,' because they're going to respond negatively," said Anderson.

If you are checking on your loved ones or neighbors, visit them in person, instead of just calling.

"If you ask me how I'm doing, what do you say, 'I'm fine.' But if you go and see them and go and take a bottle of water to them or just go and pick up their newspaper and carry it to their door. Check on them," said Anderson.

Other ways to help senior citizens include supporting Project Share.

The program helps elderly, disabled and handicapped customers pay utility bills during the extreme weather conditions. One hundred percent of funds contributed to Project Share go directly to those in need.

CASA also welcomes donations of new air conditioners and pedestal fans to distribute to their seniors.

The following are tips from the local Home Instead Senior Careoffice, to help seniors combat the heat:

  • Keep a glass of water in every room to quickly and easily access fluids. Drink plenty of fluids, even if you don’t feel thirsty.
  • Go through the closet and remove all heavy materials, long sleeves and dark colors. Instead look for short sleeves, lightweight rayons or cottons, and light-colored clothing that reflect the heat.
  • Stay out of the sun during the hottest times of the day. Sunburn makes the job of heat dissipation that much more difficult.
  • Save household chores, particularly washing and drying clothes and operating the dishwasher, for evenings when the weather is cooler.
  • Relax indoors during high heat times – between 3 and 5 p.m. in the afternoon.
  • Keep shades down and blinds pulled during the heat of the day.
  • Keep the house tightly closed, so it is more energy efficient.
  • Take cool showers or baths to cool down.
  • Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Foods with a lot of protein increase metabolic heat production which can, in turn, increase water loss.
  • If increased use of a central air conditioning system causes higher utility bills that are a problem for your budget, consider purchasing a fan or small window unit that can cool down a home at a lower cost. However, do not rely on a fan as the primary cooling device during an extreme heat event.
  • Seek medical care immediately if your senior shows symptoms of heat-related illness like muscle cramps, headaches, nausea or vomiting.