As we grow older, our bodies are less able to regulate temperature, and we perspire less. Some of the medications taken by the elderly population can interfere with fluid balance. Elders are less able to tell when they are overheated. It may be hard for seniors to get out of a dangerously warm house or apartment. They may struggle to pay energy bills to cool their home.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has long stated that in all likelihood, heat-related illness and deaths of older adults have been underreported. Now, in what is being called the most comprehensive study of heat-related illness to date, researchers from Harvard School of Public Health have analyzed data on the relationship between extreme heat and the hospitalization of older adults. The research team examined 127 billion daily hospitalizations of 23.7 million people on Medicare over the course of a decade in almost 2,000 counties of the United States. They coordinated the data with more than 4,000 temperature monitors from around the country.

The study, which appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association, confirmed that “extreme heat is the most common cause of weather-related mortality in the U.S.” The greatest risk was from heat stroke (defined below). Extreme heat also was associated with an increase in the number of seniors who were hospitalized for fluid and electrolyte disorders, kidney failure, urinary tract infections and severe blood infections (sepsis).

One important finding: Though the risks were highest on heat wave days, they remained elevated for close to a week after the hottest days had passed.
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– John D. Miller is the founder/owner of Home Care Partners, LLC, a Massachusetts business providing private duty, personalized in-home assistance and companion care services to those needing help in daily activities and household functions. He can be reached at: (781) 378-2164; email: jdmiller@homecarepartners.biz ; or online at: www.homecarepartnersma.com

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