Thursday, August 09, 2001

Check older folks: Heat poses extra danger for them

By Ben L. Kaufman and Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Hamilton County Coroner Carl L. Parrott Jr. on Wednesday echoed the plea of Cincinnati Health Commissioner Malcolm Adcock that, in addition to caring for themselves, that Tristate residents check on the elderly among them.

        “Be a good neighbor and check on those who may need assistance,” Dr. Adcock said.

        But don't leave it at that. If neighbors lack fans or air conditioning, Dr. Parrott said, “go over there and get them out of there.”

        He said the Avondale woman who died of heat stroke last week had not turned on her working, adequate air conditioner.

        That wasn't a surprise, Dr. Parrott said. He has been told that many elderly “may choose not to run it because of electricity bill considerations.”

        Others nail windows shut for security reasons, said Michael Kappa, coordinator for the Cincinnati Fire Division's emergency medical service, and can't open them when heat rises.

        Moreover, Mr. Kappa said, older bodies don't regulate temperatures as well, and the elderly may not be aware when their bodies can't deal with the heat.

        True, said Dr. E. Gordon Margolin, a geriatrician, adding that some common prescriptions may heighten heat-related risks for the elderly. These include anti-psychotic and antihistamine drugs, as well as those for bladder control.

        Cincinnati District Fire Chief Fred Prather said fear is a factor. “They don't want to leave the house.”

        For Andrew Irby, 66, of Bond Hill, dealing with this week's heat and humidity means he doesn't move much — indoors or outdoors. He's anemic and has arthritis and a bad heart.

        He spends time sitting on his living room couch as two small fans move hot air in his direction. He uses a rust-colored cloth towel to mop at the sweat on his brow.

        Mr. Irby looks forward to his Meals on Wheels deliveries from Nicole Gresham.

        “I just make sure that he's OK,” Ms. Gresham said.

        In this week of still, suffocating heat, she and 17 other drivers with Cincinnati Area Senior Services (CASS) are delivering about 70 meals a day at the same time that they make sure their elderly clients are cool enough. Ms. Gresham has been told to keep an eye out for lethargy, whether the clients have changed their clothes, and whether they are behaving any differently.

        Two people died of heat stroke earlier this month. Their body temperatures registered 106 degrees or higher.

        “Neighbors, friends and family of elderly folks really should check on them” daily, said Dr. Judith Daniels, medical director of the Cincinnati Health Department.

        Those above 60 years of age are especially vulnerable to the heat, she said. “If they're really elderly and frail, they're going to have a harder problem” with the heat, Dr. Daniels said.

        Many of those who don't have nearby family and friends have CASS, which operates the largest Meals on Wheels programs in the county. Drivers deliver about 1,600 meals a month.

        Ms. Gresham's clients are talking a lot about the heat. Mr. Irby said his apartment doesn't cool down until 2 a.m., when he finally sleeps before awaking at about 6 a.m., when the temperatures start to rise.

        There's another client who is extra testy when her meal doesn't arrive on time.

        Ms. Gresham receives hugs from some, such as Arthur Koch, 77, of Madisonville. They are close. Ms. Gresham knows about Mr. Koch's love of big band music and his wife, Opal, who lives in a nursing home.

        On Wednesday, Mr. Koch thanked his lucky stars that he had an air conditioner, and he thanked Ms. Gresham for stopping by. He was in his bare feet when he greeted her on his porch.

        “It's even too hot to put a pair of shoes on,” he said.

        To underline the cautions, Dr. Adcock extended the countywide heat alert through today, as did the Northern Kentucky Independent District Health Department in Boone, Campbell, Grant and Kenton counties.

        The Hamilton County Department of Environmental Services canceled its smog alert as of today, citing the likelihood of increasing clouds and the possibility of rain.

        To request one of the 100 fans donated by Cincinnati Fire Fighters Union Local 48 to St. Vincent DePaul Society, call 421-0602.

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