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Elders and Cannabis Use

Elders and Extreme Heat

I know, I know, this is one of those nuts-and-bolts blog posts that sounds like a snore. You think you know all you need to know and maybe it's just me but each year at about this time when I check what I wrote in the past, there are a bunch of things I've forgotten.

We are still a week away from the first day of summer and already there is a mini-heat wave going on here in the northwest corner of Oregon. Temperatures were in the 90s F yesterday and are threatening to reach that level today.

Then, according to the weather websites, we will have two weeks or so of mid-80s F degrees. This certainly is not as high as it can and does get here and especially in the southern tier of the United States, but it can still be a danger to old people.

So at about this time each year, I post a reminder about how to keep ourselves cool throughout summer and how to know when overheating is a medical emergency that requires immediate attention. Although everyone suffers, extreme heat is more often deadly for elders than younger people.

For example, 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 conditioning, 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 – or at least keep them to a minimum; they are dehydrating. (Some people dispute this; experts do not.)

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.

Some 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 the 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 never, ever hesitate to turn it on when you need it.

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.


The gym at which I workout provides spray bottles of non-toxic anti-bacterial solution for wiping down the equipment after use - mostly to get the sweat off. Since I am incapable of sweating, I use it to occasionally spray my neck during aerobic sessions (treadmills, bikes, etc) to help keep my temperature down. (I also wipe the equipment down!)

"Cooling towels" are widely available. They are far less bulky than a regular towel -- more like a scarf. Specially designed to hold moisture without feeling soggy, and evaporate and cool better than a regular towel. I drape one around my neck, or sometimes put it over my head. You may have to try a few different ones to see which fabric you like best.

I rely heavily on a/c, even here in Denver. It can get very hot in the summer, and my house seems to heat up like an oven. Cool temps after sunset don't help much when you can't get the air into the house (attic too small for a whole house fan). And all my windows are ground level; I'm afraid to leave them open at night.

I have on occasion resorted to opening both doors of my side-by-side fridge/freezer and standing there for a few minutes!

Nausea is also a symptom of heat exhaustion. I encountered it once on a hike. Nothing gets my attention faster than nausea!

Ronni, I was truly alarmed when I saw the west coast temps yesterday. Please be careful. I'm afraid what it may mean for all of us this summer.

I remember when I moved to Portland in 2001 you’d have to call a restaurant to make sure they had A/C; public places often were not air conditioned then.

I drink a lot of liquids when the weather is hot and to much water can be a problem. To keep my electrolytes in balance I was told by my doctor to drink a small can V8 juice three times a week to make sure my sodium (table salt) levels are correct. Many people are afraid of to much salt because of high blood pressure but it is necessary.
Emily T

Thanks for the very timely reminder. We hit 97 Monday, a record high for the date. I must remember to drink more water.

We live in a 55+ golf and RV community and most of us year-founders got a robocall Friday from the Park Office telling us that electricity would be turned off for 8 hours Tuesday night, 9 pm to 5 AM. We had excessive heat warning until tomorrow, Thursday, (114) and it doesn’t cool off enough at night when it’s this hot. Many have pets. Reason was new construction so this was a one time thing.

We understand why they needed to do this but the communication was horrible. Some of us didn’t get the call and heard others talking about it. They did not post signs or use email.

Luckily they decided to postpone it till next week when it cools down to 100. And we are meeting with reps of the park to improve communication!

Good advice Ronni. It's in the high 90's here in SE Washington. We received a warning from the county too. Also they said that because there was no gradual warming just 'bang" it's 97 that there's no time for bodies to adjust. I got something called a "cooling bandana scarf" from Amaz... 5 for $12.88 They work great and I got enough of them to hand out to family and friends. I carry a gallon of water in my car since out here in the wheatland if you get stuck it will take awhile for some one to come get you. My favorite electrolyte replacement drink is oj with pedialyte, or any juice. I have a glass in the afternoon now.

Ditto the reminder to ingest some salt when you are drinking so much. Years ago, when I was on Weight Watchers and drinking water constantly, I had a set of symptoms that didn’t match heat regular stroke or exhaustion - but some of both. It turned out it was heat exhaustion specific to drinking lots of water, in heat, without replacing sodium. A piece of cheese or handful of salted chips should do it.

According to the Mayo Clinic web site, coffee and tea are not dehydrating. Cola drinks are dehydrating, as is alcohol. Non-alcoholic beer is very good these days, especially German and English brews, and refreshing on a hot summer afternoon.

I am not recommending this but just relaying a method of keeping cool. When we first moved to Arizona 55 years ago an elder woman told me to take a shower with my underwear on before getting dressed to leave the house. She had to use the bus and it kept her cool until the bus arrived and her garments were dry by the time she boarded the bus. I never tried that because I was afraid the moisture would dampen my outer clothing and create an embarrassing situation. I am sure it would be better than heat stroke, though.

Last summer my heat pump died and there were several days that I sweltered before the new one could be installed. My daughter bought a portable fan to place in front of me and bought cooling neck scarfs for me to wear. I put one in the freezer and one around my neck. When the one I was wearing stopped cooling me I alternated them.

It is 102 here and my A/C is getting a workout. Even though I don't leave the house now I still make sure to stay hydrated. I always start the day with 2 glasses of water just to make sure I don't forget to drink more later in the day.

This is such a useful reminder, thank you. When I lived in Japan in the 1990s, I noticed the frequent use of small wet towels and bandannas as the dreaded summer temperatures kicked in. They worked on the same principle as the muslin-draped meat safes of my youth: evaporation. A metal mesh safe hung outside from a tree. A cloth was draped over it and trailed into a bucket of water below. Somehow the water climbed up the cloth as the cloth dried out, and the evaporation process kept the food cool. Now I'm picturing myself floating around my apartment draped in a wet sheet... hold that thought.

Oh, ha, long gone are the days when this woman eschewed AC in house and studio. Fans and wet neck clothes were it. That ended in my early 60s. Good while it lasted.

And while you have your shirt off (or more), it's a good time to check your skin for cancer. Blemishes, moles, "beauty" marks, and freckles that have irregular shapes or have changed size or color are possible indications of something that can be very dangerous. If you want make a game of connect-the-dots with a close (very) friend.

I should have mentioned I also drink Powerade zero. It contains potassium and sodium but no calories. Also no caffeine.

Not a snore at all. We’ve been sweltering here in San Jose, CA for three days in temperatures over 100. Hard for some of us to handle!

My grandmother, a 1900s Phoenix lady, put ice blocks in front of her fan. Years later I remembered this. I would fill a large bottle with water and freeze it. After I closed my windows from the night cool off, I put said bottle in front of my Hawaiian Breeze fan. Amazing.
She also taught me to keep a window cracked on the shady side of the house to let heat out. She had some windows that could be opened top down.

It's World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.
Just passing it around.

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