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FEMA and Alzheimer’s Association Urge Older Adults and People with Disabilities to Be #SummerReady

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Extreme heat can be life-threatening for some people, especially for older adults and people with disabilities and chronic medical conditions. 

In this blog post, Director of FEMA’s Office of Disability Integration and Coordination Sherman Gillums Jr. and Alzheimer's Association Care and Support Senior Director Monica Moreno teamed up to share why it’s important to continue to be #SummerReady. 

Age, disability and health are among the factors that can place someone at higher risk during extreme heat. For some, heat can’t be solved by simply jumping into a pool or drinking water. The gradual impact of hot weather can sneak up on people at greater risk which can result in a faster onset of heat exhaustion or other complications. It’s important to not only know your own risks, but to know the increased risks your loved ones face each summer. 

There are many ways extreme heat disproportionately affect people. For example, some physical disabilities are accompanied by medical conditions that prevent the body from naturally adjusting to changes in the climate. Even small temperature increases may pose risks that change how the body responds to heat in older adults with chronic medical conditions. When those chronic conditions are managed by prescription medicines, it may also affect the body’s ability to sweat. While lack of perspiration may seem ideal in certain settings, it can be deadly when outside temperatures rise and the body is not able to regulate its own internal temperature. 

The risks are even higher for people with hidden cognitive, intellectual and developmental disabilities, including dementia. A person living with Alzheimer’s disease may not be aware when an increase in heat exposure is taking effect or have the ability to communicate the discomfort as it worsens. 

An aging parent, for instance, in the later stages of Alzheimer’s will likely be unaware of their environment. Complications that arise when someone reaches this stage can mean that they experience significant malfunctions of the autonomic nervous system. When this happens, a person’s involuntary bodily functions – such as sweating, blood pressure, heart rate and digestion – are severely diminished.

The effects of extreme heat temperatures can move quickly and quietly, yet they pose the highest risk to health and safety. That’s why FEMA’s #SummerReady campaign promotes preparedness and resilience to help everyone, especially older adults and people with disabilities and chronic conditions.

Having a plan can help you protect yourself and the people in your life who may be at higher risk. Here are some helpful tips you and your loved ones can use to protect against extreme heat: 

  • Include shade, hydration, sun protection and limited exposure time in your outdoor plans.
  • Adjust your activities to avoid direct contact with the sun at peak heat hours.
  • Create easy access to air conditioning for those who need it.
  • Read the side effects of medications and talk with your doctor about how heat exposure will interact with them.
  • Notify your local energy utility to ask for priority access in the event of power loss and let them know that power restoration is life-sustaining for someone in the home.
  • Stay alert and monitor your local weather and emergency information alerts.

In your community, emergency managers can make a difference when they:

  • Communicate the importance of heightened vigilance to property managers, healthcare providers, nursing homes and assisted living staff about the importance of drinkable water, air conditioning and accessible and temperature-regulated transportation.
  • Educate community providers on the needs of people who have sensory sensitivities that affect their ability to regulate temperature. 
  • Connect lifeguards, healthcare providers, emergency responders and other community members to information and resources if they are unfamiliar with the effects of extreme weather on people living with dementia, disabilities or medical conditions.
  • Advise on the best way to communicate with people experiencing dementia-related behaviors and how to include them in disaster preparedness plans. 

Although summer is winding down, there are still hot days ahead of us. It’s important to continue to take these precautions to prepare for extreme heat. Visit Ready.gov/Summer-Ready to learn how to prepare for heat and other emergencies and disasters. You can also check out Alzheimer’s Association resources to learn how to mitigate the risks that hot weather poses to skin, blood pressure and heart rate. 

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