Dealing with Summer Heat

medical symbalI knew there was a problem the moment I stepped into the house. It was one of those stunningly hot Southern Illinois summer days, and the house was absolutely stifling. The house belonged to "Nellie," one of the senior citizens that I helped periodically in my position as a social service worker for a county senior citizen agency.

Nellie was in her seventies, and had some health problems, including an eye condition that severely affected her vision. She spent her money cautiously, but she had enough resources to maintain herself comfortably, and she did have a window air-conditioner. My experience with Nellie up to that time told me that although she had some limits in her functional abilities, her mind was quite clear. She knew what she needed, and knew how to go about getting her needs met.

On this day, however, Nellie was uncharacteristically vague. She knew it was hot. She knew her air-conditioner was not working. But her only plan to meet this emergency was to wait for her son from Wisconsin to visit her. She thought he might visit that weekend. She seemed to be in a heat induced "daze" that was impairing her judgment and ability to understand that she was in a dangerous situation.

Fortunately, she accepted my help in this situation. The son was called, the air-conditioner was repaired, and Nellie recovered. She once again was the "take charge" Nellie I had come to know.

The situation scared me, and even though that was years ago, I have never forgotten the effect that excessive heat can have. There are older people in southern Illinois who have survived many a summer without air-conditioning, but to do so requires that they be "heat smart." That means taking special precautions against the heat.

The National Institute on Aging has some tips for dealing with the heat-

Even people who are accustomed to the heat may find that advancing years and the effects of medical conditions can lessen their ability to cope. Anyone who does not have air-conditioning should make alternative plans for when the heat gets to be too much. A visit at a friend or relative's house for a few hours or for a day or two in the hottest weather may be the simplest alternative.

Other alternatives could include-

If you have a senior friend or relative who does not have air-conditioning, check with them often, and be prepared to offer whatever alternatives they might accept. Even a drive in an air-conditioned car and a lunch or snack at a fast food place might be a welcome break. For some, a few hours a day in air-conditioning can mean the difference between staying well and becoming ill from the heat. Do not overlook seniors with medical conditions who may have difficulty leaving home; it is especially important to check on them regularly.

If you would like to lend a helping hand to others, consider giving old fans to Senior Centers that distribute them to seniors in need.

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