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Reducing Elder Pedestrian Fatalities And the Alex and Ronni Show

The Danger of Extreme Heat on Elders

Given the rat-a-tat-tat of outrageous and even depraved behavior that pours forth daily from upper levels of the U.S. federal government, it is hard for other news to break through.

But we need to seek out important information and at this time of year, the weather headlines from around North America are a reminder that we must be careful to take precautions in our over-heated climate. Last week's weather was a killer:

Death Toll in Canada (Quebec) Heat Wave Jumps to 34

Death toll at 3 from Vermont heat wave

Southern California heat wave breaks records

Here are some of the temperatures (Fahrenheit) for the Los Angeles area last Friday:

Hollywood Burbank Airport - 114 degrees
Van Nuys Airport - 117 degrees
Ramona - 117 degrees
Santa Ana - 114 degrees
Riverside - 118 degrees

Once upon a time in my life, numbers like that showed up in the U.S. only in Death Valley.

With temperatures hitting three figures all too often – it's only 9 July and there is a lot more summer to get through – it is time for the annual TGB reminder that although everyone suffers, extreme heat is more often deadly for elders than younger people.

In France in August of 2003, during an extreme heat wave, 14,802 heat-related deaths occurred, most of them elders. In the U.S., it is estimated that about 370 deaths a year are attributable to heat, half of them elders. Do not take extreme heat lightly.

Here are the best suggestions for staying cool and safe during extreme hot weather. Yes, I've published these before – pretty much every year - but it's good to review them again.

Even if, like me, you dislike air conditioned air, when temperatures hit 80F, it's time to pump up the volume of that appliance. Fans, say experts, don't protect against heat-related illness when temperatures are above 90 degrees; they just push hot air around.

If you don't have an air conditioner, plan for the hottest part of the day by going to a mall or a movie or the library or visit a friend who has air conditioning.

If you have air conditioning and have elder friends or neighbors who don't, invite them for a visit in the afternoon. Some other important hot weather tips:

Wear light-colored, loose clothing.

Drink plenty of liquids and make reminders to yourself to do so. Elders sometimes don't feel thirst (another thing that stops working well with age). One way to know if you are drinking enough water is to check the color of your urine. Light-colored is good; dark indicates dehydration.

Do not drink caffeinated and alcoholic beverages; they are dehydrating.

Plan trips out of the house and exercise for the early morning hours.

Eat light meals that don't need to be cooked. High-water-content foods are good: cantaloupe, watermelon, apples, for example.

Keep a spray bottle of cold water to help you cool down. Or use a damp, cool towel around your neck.

Close doors to rooms you are not using to keep cool air from dissipating.

Medications for high blood pressure, diabetes and other conditions can inhibit the body's ability to cool itself, so it might be a good idea to ask your physician if you can cut back during hot weather.

Pull down the shades or close curtains during the hottest times of day.

In that regard, I have been quite successful in keeping my home cool during hot weather without the air conditioner. In the morning, when the temperature here in Portland, Oregon is typically in the mid- or high 50s, I open all the windows.

I keep my eye on thermometer and when the outside temperature reaches 65F or 70F – usually by late morning - I close the windows and the shades. After several years of practice with this method, I only rarely need the air conditioner even on 90-plus degree days. It saves a lot of money, too, not using the air conditioner. But to repeat: turn it on when it is necessary.

Heat exhaustion occurs when the body gets too hot. Symptoms are thirst, weakness, dizziness, profuse sweating, cold and clammy skin, normal or slightly elevated body temperature.

Move yourself or someone experiencing this to a cool place, drink cool liquids, take a cool bath or shower and rest.

Heat stroke is a medical emergency. It can cause brain damage so get thee or the affected person to a hospital. It occurs when body temperature reaches 104 or 105 in a matter of minutes. Other symptoms include confusion; faintness; strong, rapid pulse; lack of sweating and bizarre behavior.

Don't fool around with heat stroke.

There now. That's pretty much the best of health experts' recommendations about protecting ourselves and others during extreme hot weather. If you have additional suggestions, please add them in the comments.


You surely have the temps right about Southern California. I live in northeastern Los Angeles County foothills along the route to Palm Springs. We've had temps in the three digit teens the past couple days, pretty unusual, especially for this time of year, in the over forty years I've lived here. We even got a rare monsoon type rain cell dump briefly on us but air so dry afterward all signs of moisture soon evaporated. May happen again today. We welcome it as we need the water.

Outside hasn't been cooling enough at night (as used to be true when we lived in AZ) to do what you described, getting cool air in before the heat of the day. Other weather conditions we can sometimes do that. Have to be aware of air quality, pollens sometimes, too. Remember life when we didn't know all about that?

I simply stay inside, A/C working fine but had it serviced earlier in year to be ready for season, continue to use microwave with food planned to have on hand. Know what I'd do and where I'd go if power would go out. This, for me, is just reverse planning ahead for when I lived in snow storm country years ago. Could always put another layer of clothes on, but only so many you can take off.

I wonder about Arizona where we lived a few years before moving here. In the late '60s, early '70's we thought it rare to have three digit teen temps maybe three or so days later in the year. Can only imagine what they must be having now. Expect it's much like Palm Springs and may be well above those numbers now.

Local news reports power outages for several days in some areas in and around L.A. but no problem here and hope it stays that way.

Glad to read the benign diagnosis.

I think there must be something wrong with my internal thermostat. People all around me are complaining about the heat, which has been in the 90s, and I haven't been hot enough to turn on the air conditioning. I drink coffee, wear dark colored clothing and don't avoid going out during the afternoon when the sun is it's hottest. But come winter I'm the person who can never get warm enough.

Coastal Santa Cruz Mountains here - we have been getting into triple digits in the afternoon the last week or so. Like you, our temps do recede into the 50s at night, so when I get up in the morning I also open the windows - mainly on the north and west sides of my house. In addition, I set box fans to blow the cool morning air into the house - then shut everything down by mid morning. Our house, which has full sun exposure, will stay cool until about 3 p.m. - this years we sprung for having a commercial-type air conditioning unit installed - and we bought insulated floor-to-top of entryway curtains into our family room. We only cool the single room, so it's not a huge impact on our PG&E bill. The a/c unit and installation wasn't cheap - but after last summer being forced to stay at a hotel over a holiday weekend because of 111 degree temps, we figure we'll recoup that money quickly!

Thank you, Ronni, for this 'state of the art' tip sheet. Coming to Portland from Nevada I fancied I might be able to add some ideas. Just a few since your original is so fine.

I keep a small bottle of water in the seat of my walker all the time now if I leave home. If folks of our vintage don't drink something as soon we are lucky enough to notice thirst the sensation passes, and in heat one moves toward dehydration quickly. Some elders lose the sensations entirely, and it leads to confusion. I am pretty attached to my cup of coffee to function now, so remembering that it is a real diuretic, just get a good glass of water with any bathroom stop.

My home management is similar to yours due to the $ expense $ and NOISE of my window cooler, so I keep a small, quiet circulating Vornado fan on the floor where I spend the most time. Moving air over moist skin is excellent, inexpensive "evaporative cooling".

And finally just a curious fact I learned from a gas station attendant at the edge of Death Valley when I young and foolish enough to be driving in such heat. I was worried about my old car overheating and stalling somewhere en route. He told me it will save my engine during the next 50 miles if I run the heater. Sounds counterproductive, yet it kept the water from the radiator circulating through the motor and likely kept 2 young women safe. With all windows open and the door handles too hot to hold we pressed on, big cups of iced tea in hand....and lot smarter.
Thanks again for this excellent timely reminder.

Coffee and tea are not dehydrating in the normal amounts most people drink them. Caffeine given as a pill or powder dehydrates, but the water in the beverages more than makes up for that, and there is some evidence, probably weak, that caffeine helps memory retention. (I got this from a search for "does caffeine cause dehydration.")

That is not a recommendation to drink more than a cup or two in the morning. Both these hot beverages originated in hot climates, where they helped people stay cool by increasing sweating.

Cola drinks, however, are dehydrating. So if soda is your poison, don't choose colas during the heat.

We are in the AC nearly all the time except when walking the dog. In the heat, I even drive to nearby lake instead of walking, and we go back and forth on the windy north side where it is coolish and shady. Minnesota is not posting the record busting temps you listed, Ronnie, but the humidity is such that the overall "heat index" has resulted in warnings.

Stay safe, everyone.

Good info. I'd like to add if you are helping someone with heat stroke do not give them chilled liquids it can cause them to go into shock. Luke warm is best.

I used to do well in the heat, no longer so I avoid it afternoons. It's in the high 90's here. This is about a month early for this part of E WA. Fortunately for me the previous owner of my condo installed a really great heat pump and being a small place on the shady side of the building I don't get the afternoon sun. It was one of the reasons I bought this place.

I think my our personal thermostats sometimes go permanently on vacay as we age. I carry water in my car and sip as I drive around doing my errands or visiting.

Don't discount fans. My ceiling fans are a real boon in helping to equalize temperatures in rooms that get too warm because they are on the unshaded south side of the house and because the TV there puts out a lot of heat. (Even my laptop puts out heat.) Keeping the air moving around really helps. Otherwise, the cool air drops to the floor, and I don't live down there! The central a/c fan alone is pretty pathetic and can't move air the way a ceiling fan does. (And yes, if desperate enough, I can turn off the electronics.)

My furnace has a setting that lets me pull cool air from the basement into the living space using the furnace fan.

Thank you for your comment Ms. Tweetley; I'm going to look into that. We had a new super-efficient furnace installed a few years ago, and all the inside work done for central AC, but since we stay cool enough for most of the summer haven't had the rest of the more expensive AC work done. I'm going to check to see if ours has that air-pulling feature, as our basement stays quite comfortable all summer.

One more thing I will say is that our community, and maybe others, needs to do a better job of providing for and notifying seniors about cooling sites. There are a few local cooling centers announced on TV and radio and in flyers at social services, but almost all are available only on weekdays and from 8 or 9 a.m.-5 p.m., and mostly connected with homeless shelters, as that's the population that's usually on people's radar screen. I've not seen one cooling center in my city of 140K+ set up specifically for older folks.

Tucson Electric Power recommends using ceiling fans and turning the thermostat up one degree (I am sure everyone has an evaporation cooler or an air conditioner here and the summer bills can be horrendous.) to save money. When you open your house in the night and early morning hours be sure to open a door or window on opposite sides of the house so you get a flow of cool air circulating. If you live in Phoenix or Yuma this won't work because there are no cool hours.

I drink 2 full glasses of water when I get up to make sure I start the day well hydrated.

Joared, our temperatures are not as high as LA right now. Weird, huh?

I do as little physical activity as possible during the day. Not a problem for me as that's also true in the winter. Ha! I keep water by my side all the time and sip it frequently. I skip bras and other restrictive clothing and sleep without a cover at night.

I had a 30 year old heat pump that was due to go out at any time. I always said it would quit functioning on the coldest or the hottest day of the year. Talk about a self-fulfilling prophesy because a few weeks ago it failed and it took over a week to buy and have a new one installed. Meanwhile I vegetated and took tepid showers to try and keep as cool as possible. My daughter bought cooling strips to wear around my neck and head and she also bought a portable fan that I carried on my walker all the time. I survived, but it wasn't a lot of fun.

Sometimes going to the mall or a movie to keep cool is an option, but when you get in your 4 wheel oven to drive home the contrast makes the heat at home feel worse. I find that letting my body adjust to the heat is better overall.

I can't add much else on how to survive during the hot weather. Just keep hydrated, keep calm and catch up on your reading.

The one good thing about the California heat wave is that my arthritis goes away....to a tropical island, I guess. Today it has been 83 degrees since noon, and a high of 91, yesterday. But at noon it was 53 % humidity.

The worst heat - humidity - I have ever experienced was living in Lawton, Oklahoma, for a spring and summer, in 1961, when my husband was stationed there. I had to cut my long thick hair because it was way too hot on my head - boo hoo. Unable to afford anything better, I and baby suffered with a "swamp cooler".

We live south of Santa Barbara within 3 miles of the ocean and always have a nice breeze - sometimes it is a Santa Ana wind like that which fueled the deadly wildfires in December, but I'll take that as opposed to a hurricane or a tornedo any day. We can open several windows and doors and always have a comfortable temperature inside. When we have a heat wave we shut the house up early and when it cools off we place a fan in front of an open door to get some relief. Yesterday we walked on the beach and it was quite delightful with the off-shore breeze.

We tried to buy a window A/C yesterday but they were all sold out at our favorite big box store so my husband ordered one on-line. All the suggestions are good: keep putting cold water on pulse points, hydrate, and eat lots of cold fruit, and salads.

...or you could move to Melbourne for the duration (of course, you’d have to move back come December otherwise you’d have the same problems).

One of our sons suffered a heat stroke in his forties, suffering 107 temp and resulting coma. When he finally came out of it, he was helpless. Unable to move, talk or think. Super great physical, occupational, speech therapies left him damaged but alive. He did the best he could though weak on one side with speech damage. He basically moved and spoke much like a drunk person. He lived with this till last year when he took his own life. I think he just got fed up with the whole thing. I am 82 and in hot weather I stay in the a/c.

The one significant thing that I have noticed as I age is, that I hardly perspire anymore. As a kid, I could work up a good sweat at the drop of a hat. Now, nothing.

Our weather here in the Chicago area has been hot, but In other areas of the country it's a lot worse, so no complaints. I have a small air conditioner in my living room and add a fan directing to my kitchen, where I live most of the day. My dog stays in those two rooms. I forget about water like many people but thank you for the reminder.
Ava South, I am so sorry about your Son.

It's been in the 90's at the beach here in San Diego. I went to work, and the air was on, but I almost fainted. I had been helping set up at display, and I was sweating profusely. Now days later, inland here, even in the middle of a monsoon, it's in the 90's.

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