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COLUMN:Age Well - Seniors need to keep cool as temperatures rise

McGuire, Neda
Images of the beach, lazy days and cool drinks swirl in my head when I think about summer.

Indeed summer can be fun and may allow for more time to spend with our families and older loves ones.

You may notice if you visit your older loved one that even during summer months, they may wear sweaters or have their air conditioner off.

As we age, our bodies become less able to regulate internal temperature.

Some medications can contribute to this condition, but it is very important to realize that such behaviors can lead to becoming overheated.

Every summer, the news reports stories of older adults facing life-threatening conditions due to the effects of high temperatures.

While it is widely known that we should take care when venturing outdoors during sweltering hot days, it is also important to know that older adults can become overheated in their own homes.

Here are some tips to assist our older adults prepare their homes for summer:

Exterior
Make sure caulking around windows and weather strips around doors are in good repair. Having windows tinted to keep the sunlight at bay can help keep homes cool.

Hire an air conditioning repair company to perform service on units: clean coils, filters, and appropriate freon levels ensure air handlers are efficient and prevent break-downs during critical months.

Check to see if insulation and ventilation in the attic is sufficient. Planting shade trees to provide cover from the sun can help keep homes cool.

Interior
Install ceiling fans to keep rooms cool.

Remember, during the summer months ceiling fans should be set to run in a counter-clockwise motion to vent air downwards for a cooling effect.

(Most fans have a switch above the blades to do this, as in the winter months the blades should be running in a clockwise motion).

Make sure drapes or shades are adequate to keep the sun from beaming in through the windows during the peak of the day.

Make sure the clothes dryer vents are clear. If they are clogged, the heat generated by the dryer seeps into the home instead of out the vent.

Clogged dryer vents can present a fire hazard, so it is especially important to maintain them properly.

Small, battery-operated personal fans can help. Spray bottles filled with water offer a refreshing spritz to keep from overheating.

Emergency preparedness

It is key to be prepared for emergencies regardless of our age.

During sweltering summers, some states initiate rolling blackouts in order to keep power grids from overheating. Sometimes air conditioners simply break, or electricity can go out for other reasons.

In these instances, freezing small bottles of water during the summer is a good idea. If the power goes out, removing them for drinking when they thaw can keep us cool.

It is also a good idea to wet a few washcloths and keep them in the freezer; if there is a power outage, these can be placed on the back of the neck to help keep cool.

As you plan your summer fun with your family, remember to share information with your loved ones about summer risks so that all family members can enjoy these warm months safely.

- Gerontologist Neda McGuire of Woodbridge has lived in the area since 1997. She serves on the board of the Alzheimer’s Association and is CEO of Partners in Aging. She can be reached at nedamcguire@gmail.com.
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