Seniors should be prioritized during heat waves: support

Understanding the impact heat has on people of different ages can be the difference between “I’m not comfortable in this heat” and the deadly consequences, says one seniors advocate.

With record-breaking temperatures due to El Niño, concerns are growing about the safety of the aging population during heatwaves.

A report published this week in the journal Nature says last year’s devastating heatwave in Europe killed more than 61,000 people with more than half of the deaths being people over the age of 80. In 2021, British Columbia’s Coroner’s Service reported nearly 600 deaths from intense summer heat, and 91% of those deaths were 60 or older.

With the Earth experiencing its hottest days last week and heatwaves becoming more common in Canada, protecting older people from the dangers of extreme weather is becoming an important priority.

One way to do so is with a health check.

Isobel Mackenzie, a member of the BC Aging Advocacy group, told CTV’s Your Morning program on Thursday that it is important to screen older adults for high-temperature events and to be aware of the signs. Sun stroke.

“Like if someone is normally not confused and they become confused, if they are comatose, certainly if they are vomiting or have other similar signs and symptoms, you need to really get them to the hospital. hospital as quickly as possible,” she said.

Accessing cooling centers is another alternative, however, Mackenzie says this comes with some challenges for seniors.

First, there is a lack of knowledge about the locations and hours of the centers because most seniors don’t use social media, Mackenzie explains. Accessibility and transportation also play an important role.

“I think we need to remember that for many of us, the ability to go down to the cooling centers, to go to the mall, to go to the pool, is all pretty accessible to us, but for older people, mobility to get there is difficult,” she said.

Mackenzie said heatwaves become more dangerous as the temperature inside the home rises. For vulnerable people, this can mean two things, they need to find somewhere they can stay while the heat peaks subside, or invest in a cooling system like an air conditioner. air or heat pump.

Last month, the BC government announced it would provide $10 million to BC Hydro to expand its Energy Conservation Assistance Program to include free, publicly funded portable air conditioners for vulnerable populations. medically vulnerable and low income.

“We need to remember that this is not going to be a solution for everyone everywhere,” Mackenzie said, adding that some places are not able to install air conditioning due to the layout of windows or maintainability.

Air conditioning can also increase electricity bills.

To encourage people to time their air conditioners on, there are incentive programs, such as Peak Perks in Ontario, where residents are rewarded for saving energy and reducing air conditioning usage on certain days. hottest summer day in the province.

The federal government also suggests calculating what your overall energy costs will be before purchasing a new unit of any kind.

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