Stay cool when the heat is on

With 'Heat Helpers,' caregivers check on elderly

In deadly heat waves, many senior citizens who are most vulnerable to the heat may be ignoring the warnings. A study out of Kent State University shows 90 percent of respondents over the age of 65 were aware of heat warnings, but most seniors thought the messages were targeted toward 'older Americans,' a group to which they did not think they belonged.

That's why Senior Helpers - a nationwide in-home provider for seniors, with offices in Portland and Salem - has started a program called 'Heat Helpers,' caregivers who come to the home to keep the elderly safe in hot weather.

'Nobody wants to admit they can't deal with extreme heat like they used to. That's why it's so important to have someone check on your elderly loved one when you can't be there,' says Peter Ross, CEO and founder of Senior Helpers.

'Heat safety has changed … from new FDA guidelines on sunscreen to health recommendations for water intake seniors need to stay hydrated,' Ross says. 'It often takes an extra set of eyes and ears to make sure seniors are doing everything they can to stay protected.'

Here's how 'Heat Helpers' works: Senior Helpers caregivers go to seniors' homes to help them with daily activities such as cleaning, cooking and yard work, which may be too strenuous when it's hot. Caregivers also make sure seniors are taking proper precautions to beat the heat. Among their suggestions:

• Stay well hydrated - Caregivers remind seniors to drink water throughout the course of the day, even if they're not particularly thirsty.  As adults continue to age, the amount of water retained by the body decreases substantially. 

 • Maintain a cool environment - Caregivers close blinds and curtains keeping the house cool, even in triple digit temperatures.  Caregivers also have battery operated/hand-held fans readily available to keep their seniors comfortable. Most seniors are budget-conscious, so it's important for caregivers to be sure the air conditioning is set to a proper, cool level and it's working. Caregivers can also be responsible to check filters once a month. 

 • Stay in air conditioning in the afternoon - The hottest part of the day is from 3 to 5 p.m.  Caregivers provide inside activities such as playing cards, going to movies or the mall to keep seniors active inside to avoid spending time outside during the most dangerous hours of the day. 

• Eat plenty but lightly - Caregivers prepare light food because heavy foods, such as meat and cheese, tend to make the body work harder to digest, using more water and generating more body heat.

• Follow new sunscreen guidelines - Caregivers are well versed on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's newly released guidelines about sun protection.  Seniors are more prone to sunburn because their bodies have less water.  Caregivers educate seniors about these new regulations, which include: There's no such thing as 'sweat proof' or 'water proof' sunscreen; and you must re-apply sunscreen every two hours for it to work effectively.

• Have copies of health-care information - In the event of an emergency, caregivers can have copies of seniors' prescriptions, health insurance cards and phone numbers of health-care providers.

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