Risk for Seniors in the Summer Months

Posted by: The Bristal

Dear Maryellen,

I’m more curious about this than anything else. As you know, we just had a pretty mild winter, and I’ve heard predictions about it being a grueling summer. Shouldn’t folks be extra watchful of their elderly loved ones during the summer? -David, Greenlawn, NY

Dear David,

I’m so happy you’ve raised this issue, because, yes, it is a serious one, and it needs more attention. While so much public debate centers on the existence or non-existence of global warming, the more important issue for me, of course, is that we thoughtfully remind ourselves to look after the seniors in our families and neighborhoods during the coming dog days of summer — especially those who are ill. There’s not only good sense behind your concern; there’s also good science.

According to recent research conducted at the Harvard University School of Public Health, even small rises in summer temperatures may shorten life expectancy for seniors with chronic medical conditions. Following the lives of 3.7 million chronically ill seniors over 20 years and across 135 U.S. cities, the massive study found that for each 1° Celsius of increase in temperature, the death rate for chronically ill seniors increased 2.8% to 4.0%. Increases in death were most prominently noted for those with diabetes.

With countless seniors living on their own, and many managing fixed incomes that don’t allow for many extras, the tendency is to limit or eliminate altogether the use of air conditioning, which can prove dangerous in stifling heat. Still others may forget to turn their systems on, or their units are in disrepair. Whatever the reasons A/C is not used, the warmer it gets, the cooler the elderly must remain, particularly when they are ill. So, let’s all follow David’s insightful cue and be sure to reach out to senior family and friends this summer. Who knows? You may just save a life… and there’s nothing cooler than that.

Maryellen McKeon

Source: McKnight’s LTC News Online; April 10, 2012

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