We all suffer from extreme heat and humidity, but our elderly neighbors just seem to take the brunt of it. One way we can be a caring neighbor is to find ways to help them beat the heat.
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Why the Elderly are at a Higher Risk
As we grow older, our bodies naturally have less water. As a senior adult, we don’t always ‘feel’ thirsty, even if our bodies are telling us differently.
Some medications can affect our hydration levels, such as some blood pressure meds. We aren’t able to always keep the fluid levels in balance, and our kidneys may not be as effective as they once were.
Know the Signs of Dehydration
With my own elderly mom, dehydration has been an issue. She became dizzy and confused. It was extremely scary, not knowing what was going on. But now, I have learned the signs, and keep a closer watch.
Here are some other signs of dehydration:
- Overall feeling of sickness
- Tiredness & Sleepiness
- Low Blood Pressure
- Unsteady, or ‘wobbly’ when walking
- Severe Cramping
- Dry Mouth
These are only some of the symptoms that may occur, not all of them. Keep in mind, a few of these are also symptoms of other diseases, such as diabetes. If you have any questions at all, call for paramedics or consult with a physician.
Caring for your Elderly Neighbor
If you have someone you know that is getting up in years, make it a practice to check on them. Do this at least once a week, or more often if possible.
Do this especially during the extreme heat of summer and the vicious cold of winter. Here are a few ways you can do that:
Stop by for a ‘Visit’
Just stopping in can help to cure loneliness in an older neighbor. Folks are busy with their own lives, and all too often we forget about those who cannot get out much.
By taking a few moments to visit may very well be the highlight of their week. Take them a treat, such as cookies and a thermos of something cold to drink. But while you are there, do a little ‘snooping’.
Check Your Elderly Neighbor’s ‘Temperature’
Before you do anything else, do a quick ‘temperature’ check. If it is stifling hot, find out if they have air conditioning, or at the very least, a fan.
Get ready, though. Most older people feel cold even when it is hot outside. And our bodies will adjust somewhat to the environmental temperatures. But if it is hot in the home, and there is no obvious means of cooling, you need to suggest they get a fan.
Unfortunately, some of our elderly are on a serious fixed income, and cannot afford some ‘luxuries’, even if those items are in reality a necessity.
Check with your local Council on Aging, television and radio stations, and other volunteer organizations. Find out if they are giving out free fans for the elderly.
If you have the means, stop by your local dollar store and purchase one or two yourself. And if worse comes to worse, contact other charitable agencies, such as your church, to see if they can help.
The same applies if they have a window unit or central air. They may not want to run it, as it causes their electric bills to rise. If this is the case, see if the electric company can give them a break. Or again, talk with a charitable organization to see if they can assist with deferring the costs.
No. This does not mean searching through their homes, uninvited. This just means you want to preserve their dignities, but also make sure everything is okay.
First, as unobtrusively as possible, check them over from head to toe. Things to look for are signs of heat exhaustion, dehydration and personal hygiene. Listen to their speech pattern.
Once you are sure they are ‘fit as a fiddle’, as Aunt Emily used to call it, then take a look around. Is the home relatively neat and clean? Do you smell gas, burnt food or any other unusual odors? All of these things could indicate problems.
If there is an unusual odor, find a way to ask about it. ‘Have you been aware of a gas leak? I seem to smell a slight aroma of it?’ ‘You must have been cooking. Is that chicken I smell?’ Depending on their answer will depend on your further actions.
Another thing to check for are issues with the structure. Do you notice mold? Are there repairs that need to be made? If they are minor, offer to do them. If they are major, then you may want to contact a family member.
If there IS a Problem
At some point in the very beginning of your visits, it may be wise to ask a few pointed questions. Do they have family close by? If they do, politely find a way to ask if you can get their name and phone number in case of an emergency.
If your neighbor agrees, you may want to take time once you are back home to give them a call. Introduce yourself, and let them know you are a neighbor and have been checking on their family member. Give them your information, so they have someone close by they can check in with, if necessary.
If your elderly neighbors do not have family in close proximity, ask if they would mind writing down an emergency contact list that includes the name of their physician.
You may also have to make some fast decisions based on what you are seeing, smelling or sometimes, even sensing.
If something seems ‘off’, whether it is physical or environmental, but not life threatening, contact the family member. Ask them how you should proceed.
However, if it appears to be a medical condition, call 911 first, ask questions later. It’s better to be a little embarrassed for over-reacting, than to not react and it becomes serious.
‘Treat’ Your Elderly Neighbors
If they are mobile, but unable to drive, offer to take them to run errands. Do this early in the morning when the temperatures are lowest.
You can also offer to treat them to breakfast while you are out. Often, just a simple meal out can lift the spirits of someone who spends most of their days confined to their homes.
If you do stop in for a visit, try to bring them a simple gift. This can be a bouquet of wildflowers, or flowers from your garden.
In the heat of summer, bring your elderly neighbors a cold pasta salad filled with fresh, chopped vegetables. Homemade or boxed crackers are a perfect addition, and will provide for them at least one meal they don’t have to prepare themselves.
If the weather is extremely cold, bring them individual servings of soup. Put several of them in the freezer, and leave one in the refrigerator for that day’s meal. Add crackers or a loaf of homemade bread to go with it.
You can also bake muffins, a cake or cookies. Add a thermos of a cold drink, such as lemonade, decaffeinated iced tea or juice. If they love coffee, bring them an iced version. This will encourage them to drink more liquids, if they are not already doing so.
Just keep in mind dietary restrictions. If they have diabetes, refrain from overly-sugared drinks. Choose a decaffeinated version as caffeine often acts as a diuretic.
Do they enjoy playing games? Add a deck of cards or a checker board to your treat basket. If they love to read, find out their favorite genre and offer to bring them books from the library. Better yet, offer to take them once every two weeks or so.
Helping Elderly Neighbors -A Beautiful Part of Living a Simple Life
Part of living a simple life means taking time out of your busy schedule to help others. Just a quick visit with your elderly neighbors is as good for you as it is for them. And to know they are cared for, watched after and are staying cool in the heat is a very comforting thought.