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Heat causes trouble for county seniors

Although the National Weather Service does not predict additional heat advisories within the next five days, temperatures dropping into the high 80s or low 90s will not bring complete relief for some county residents.

Monday, August 02, 1999

Although the National Weather Service does not predict additional heat advisories within the next five days, temperatures dropping into the high 80s or low 90s will not bring complete relief for some county residents.

"We are expecting mid-80s today with lows in the upper 50s, whereas with the heat advisory we were having lows in the 70s," NWS meteorologist Matt Belk said. "This will continue until Wednesday when we start creeping back up to the 90s, but I don’t see any excessive heat advisories for at least the next five days. Of course, that’s subject to change."

While this forecast might look good to some residents, it won’t provide nearly as much relief to county senior citizens, said Dr. Stephen Shy, director of RVHS emergency services.

At River Valley Health System in Ironton, the excessive temperatures have brought an increased number of senior citizen patients through the ER doors, he said.

"We’ve had several with pulmonary problems and lung problems and confusion," Shy said. "The heat serves to exacerbate any symptoms of chronic illness they may have."

As patients get older, high temperatures put more of a strain on their systems, he explained.

"Their own body’s protective mechanisms just don’t function as well as they used to," he said. "So, they are not protected as well against any extreme conditions, be it extreme heat or extreme cold."

Many of the early warning signs include confusion, nausea and weakness, he added.

"These symptoms are very pronounced in the older generation," he said. "We’ve had several come in with these symptoms, and it is because of the heat."

The best way for seniors to avoid suffering is to stay out of the sun, he said.

"It is dangerous for them, and the No. 1 thing to remember is to stay out of direct sunlight," Shy said. "Stay indoors, keep fans and cooling systems on, keep proper ventilation and air movement in the home."

Moist, cold cloths on the back of the neck also can aid in cooling the body down, he said.

High heat is not the only summer weather condition that is especially threatening to senior citizens’ health. Humidity also plays a large roll in summer health problems in the elderly, he said.

"It’s not just the heat. The excessive humidity causes problems as well," Shy said. "If they already have difficulty breathing because of chronic lung problems or respiratory illnesses, the humidity serves to exacerbate the problem."

For residents who must do without the luxury of air conditioning, it is best to seek it elsewhere, rather than stay at home and run the risk of serious health problems due to overheating, he said.

"Senior citizens who don’t have a cooling system should go and do something they enjoy that will keep them in a cool environment during the hottest hours of the day," he said. "They could go to any of the area malls or go and see a movie. These are environments that will help them maintain a normal body temperature."