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Reporter's Notebook

August 4, 2012

Reporter's Notebook: Make sure seniors are safe in summer heat

Summer weather in the Oneonta area offers plenty of sunshiny days great for swimming, walking, picnicking and being outdoors for any of many reasons.

This summer, the heat some days has been intensified by humidity, and warnings have been issued about preventing fires and conserving water.

Recently, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield issued a media release with reminders to prevent heat-related illnesses, especially for senior citizens.

Individuals 65 years of age and older are at a greater risk of suffering from heat stress in hot weather because they're more likely to have a chronic medical condition that changes how the body responds to heat, the Utica-based health care services company said.

"Individuals with health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes or high blood pressure could get sick or suffer from overheating even if temperatures don't reach the 90s," Dr. Frank Dubeck, chief medical officer for Medical Policy for Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, said in the release.

Signs of heat-related illness include headache, nausea, fatigue, confusion, cramping, or odd behavior, Dubeck said, and to alleviate these symptoms, have the individual rest in a cool place where the individual can have small sips of fluid.

"Our aging bodies don't regulate heat as well, and we're often not as aware of increasing temperatures until it's, too," he said in a prepared statement. "When the body can't get rid of excess heat, the organs begin to overheat and not work properly."

Dubeck offered tips for caring for an older adult, including:

"¢ Check with the doctor to see if the person has a condition or takes medication that may influence heat-related illness. Sometimes patients are restricted to how much they can drink.

"¢ Drink liquids regularly. Depending on prescriptions, make sure the person drinks appropriate liquids. Stay away from beverages with a lot of sugar or caffeine, which cause the body to lose more fluid. Do not wait for them to say they are thirsty because by that time, they already are fluid deprived. Individuals spending any time in the sun should have two to four adequate glasses of cool liquids.

"¢ Rest in a cool area. Individuals at risk should stay in a cool place and be checked on at least twice a day. Air-conditioned areas are the best places to rest. If an air conditioning unit is not in the individual's home, suggest that the person go to a mall or library.

Electric fans are not sufficient as a solitary cooling device and, because they circulate warm air, they should not be relied on in a heat wave.

"¢ Take a cool shower or bath. Taking a shower or bath will allow an individual's body to cool. Placing a wet towel on necks or foreheads also will help regulate body temperature.

"¢ Wear light-weight, light-colored, loose clothing.

State Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, fulfilled a pledge -- he donated blood.

Seward said after hearing from the American Red Cross about a shortage in the blood supply -- and a need for donors -- he agreed not only to promote participation but also signed up.

On July 25, Seward made his donation during the Red Cross "Communities That Care" blood drive at the Oneonta Holiday Inn. During the promotion, he said, it was the first time he donated.

Blood donations through the American Red Cross were at the lowest level in 15 years, Seward said in a media release last week that confirmed his contribution of a pint.

For information on upcoming blood drives, call (800) 733-2767 or visit redcrossblood.org.

Denise Richardson can be reached at 432-1000 or (800) 721-1000, ext. 213, or at drichardson@thedailystar.com.

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