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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Health

How to protect older loved ones from heat wave, and who’s considered at risk

By Molly Wisor The Spokesman-Review

With temperatures expected to reach over 100 degrees on Friday, health officials are warning people with underlying health conditions to stay safe from the heat. Last June, 20 people in Spokane County died from the heat during the historic heat wave.

According to Lauren Jenks, assistant secretary of the Washington Department of Health’s Environmental Public Health Division, more people are at risk of fatalities due to the heat than they might think.

“You might be over the age of 50, at more risk of dying from heat, but still feeling young and vibrant,” she said. “A lot of people in that age category don’t consider themselves to be old enough to be at risk, but they are.”

Conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease and age-related illnesses make people’s bodies more vulnerable to extreme heat. The medicines taken to mitigate these symptoms can also put individuals in danger.

“Often, the drugs a person is taking to help protect them can actually put someone at higher risk of developing hyperthermia,” she said. “It would be smart to talk to a doctor about making sure your medication is safe for the heat wave.”

Regardless of medical conditions, air conditioning and cool water are crucial in staying safe from the heat. But often, older people without direct access to those resources are hesitant to leave their homes.

“No one wants to leave behind their belongings, especially for an indeterminate amount of time,” she said.

Any place with adequate air conditioning can be used to cool down.

The city of Spokane has a number of cooling stations in operation, but sometimes the best places aren’t specifically designated for cooling.

“The trick is to find someplace that you feel comfortable going,” she said. “Sometimes that’s just the grocery store, where you can spend some time to cool off.”

For people with older relatives who live alone, Jenks said it’s important to check in on them and make sure they have a plan for dealing with the heat.

“It’s good to stay informed on how your loved one is doing,” she said. “If they’re starting to show signs of stress, we want to make sure we get them into an air-conditioned place.”

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