Summertime and the living is easy – sometimes.
While most of us look forward to the warmer weather and participating in outdoor activities, summer is not always kind to older adults. Moreover, despite what seems like an annual warning about the dangerous effects of hot temperatures and poor air quality on seniors, there are still too many reports of older people hospitalized or dying from heat-related causes. That’s why it’s still a good idea to remind everyone that summertime isn’t always so easy.
At the Health Journalism 2018 panel session, “Is climate change a threat to public health?” the answer was a resounding yes – but in ways that reporters and editors might not yet realize.
Extreme weather events are making headlines all over the world with increasing frequency and journalists should be aware of the cascade of health issues that happen beyond the immediate calamities of these events, panelists said. Scientific research on these effects is just getting started. Continue reading
Hypothermia is a dangerous drop in body temperature that may result in long term, serious health problems such as a heart attack, kidney or liver damage, or death.
Older adults are especially vulnerable to hypothermia because their body’s response to cold is often diminished by underlying medical conditions such as diabetes. Certain medications, including over-the-counter cold remedies, can also affect the body’s response to temperature.
According to the National Institute on Aging, hypothermia is generally defined as having a core body temperature of 95 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. It can occur when the outside environment gets too cold or the body’s heat production decreases. Hypothermia can develop in older adults even after relatively short exposure to cold weather or a small drop in temperature. Recent CDC data shows that nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of the 2,000 weather related deaths for all ages between 2006-10 were due to exposure to excessive cold, hypothermia, or both. Between 1999 and 2002, 49 percent of those who died from hypothermia were aged 65 or older, 67 percent were male. Continue reading
With much of the country feeling the “polar vortex” and some of the coldest temperatures seen in 20 years in some places, reporters may be called upon to write about health – and death – in cold weather.
Hypothermia is the unintentional lowering of the body’s core temperature below 95º F. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, common risk factors for hypothermia include exposure to cold while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, altered mental status and immersion in cold water. Other factors can include advanced age, chronic medical conditions, substance abuse and homelessness.
The CDC has some winter weather health and safety tips to help people protect themselves from frostbite, hypothermia, carbon monoxide poisoning, chainsaw mishaps and more. Here are some other general resources: Continue reading
It’s not too soon to focus on the connection between scorching temperatures and the health of older adults. With the southwest already coping with record-breaking heat and the first reports of heat-related death and hospitalizations of elderly residents confirmed, media attention is turning to weather’s impact on elder’s health in their own communities.
This may be an annual story for many media outlets, but it’s still an important one. A CDC study revealed that over 7,200 deaths occurred from extreme heat between 1999 and 2009, and that heat-related deaths were on the rise, according to their analysis of 2012 mortality data. The elderly are particularly vulnerable to high temperatures for several reasons. The American Geriatrics Society points out that older adults may be less likely to feel hot and take longer to cool down. Many juggle multiple chronic conditions which are affected by extreme heat and take multiple medications, which can lead to dehydration or more trouble regulating body temperature.
As this CDC fact sheet details, the health effects of extreme heat bear repeating. Public health officials need to spread these messages through local media and will likely be available for interviews. Cooling centers are a great place to interview seniors about conditions in their homes, and hospital emergency department directors can speak to any spikes in visits, as well as warning signs and health ramifications.
What else is your city/town/community doing to help the elderly beat the heat? Here’s a KNXV-Phoenix report on a program in Scottsdale, Ariz., and another from The Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C., that might inspire some ideas. In central Texas, the Brownwood News reports on several local organizations that have teamed up to conduct a fan drive and deliver them to elderly residents.
What resources can you point seniors to? What should caregivers know?
If you haven’t already, take 90 seconds to read Tulsa World reporter Michael Overall’s brief, powerful account of how emergency preparedness translated to emergency action at the hospital caught in the center of the May tornado in Joplin, Mo.
The staff had practiced severe weather drills and evacuations hundreds of times but, as one administrator told Oklahoma colleagues, “There’s no way you can plan for an F-5 tornado.” Nevertheless, Overall writes, the well-drilled staff of St. John’s hospital “evacuated all 183 patients in just 90 minutes with no major injuries,” a sentence you won’t appreciate until you read Overall’s narrative based on a hospital administrator’s talk at a conference for regional emergency workers.
For those of you looking for story ideas, you might look into local hospitals’ disaster plans. Have they really planned for every contingency? Certainly there are things no one can plan for, but it’s worth reading the story from this hospital and evaluating disaster plans with those events in mind.
For more, read AHCJ’s roundup and review of Joplin tornado coverage.