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Good Karma: Check on your loved ones and neighbors this weekend

July 15, 2011

It’s going to be a very hot, humid weekend. We’re talking heat index values in the mid-90′s to 115+. Yikes. I plan to spend much of this weekend indoors because hot, humid weather makes me cranky. The news always makes a big deal about checking on the youngest, the oldest and the unwell at times like these, and here’s the science behind that.

According to a new MSNBC.com article, “old people don’t think of themselves as old,” so they don’t realize that they personally need to take extra precautions. By age 30, our internal organs stop growing and start declining, and it’s not about how young you feel or how active you are. Our bodies just plain ol’ lose the ability to deal with heat as we age:

In extreme heat, blood is redirected to the skin to help cool us down. To make up for that, the body needs to make more blood so that the heart, brain and other organs will get enough. But that takes a lot of water, which may be in short supply when a person has been sweating a lot.

Older people may not even realize that they need more water because the sense of thirst diminishes with age so people don’t always know they’re dehydrating. Making matters worse, older kidneys aren’t as good at keeping fluids in the system.

Add to that the host of medications taken by seniors — some of which can impair sweating and the heart’s ability to pump harder in response to these heat-related demands — and it’s a recipe for disaster on days when the mercury skyrockets.

“The bottom line,” Resnick says, “ is that older people have less of a physical reserve to count on when they’re challenged by high temperatures.”

The problems are exacerbated when an older person (or anyone, for that matter) doesn’t have air conditioning to keep them cool. Kids often either don’t recognize the symptoms of heat-related illness, or can’t verbalize them, so they need extra attention as well. And if someone’s sick, well, this weekend’s weather sure won’t help matters.

So please, earn a little good karma this weekend and check in with neighbors and loved ones. See if they’re feeling OK and have plenty of water or other fluids to drink. If they don’t have A/C or fans to keep them cool, invite them to join you someplace less oppressively hot. Could be your place or the mall, anywhere they can be comfortable.

And for the love of everything holy and sacred, please skip the outdoor strenuous physical activity this weekend! I went on a bike ride once in weather like we’re expecting, back in high school, and got heat exhaustion. It was the most miserable experience of my life.

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