What did you do last time we had a heat wave?
Chances are, you turned on your air conditioning or went somewhere cool for the duration. But what if you didn’t have air conditioning, or couldn’t afford to use it?
What if you didn’t know where to go? Or were in poor health?
Many of the elderly in Sarnia-Lambton are in precisely this position — and they’re exactly the people who are most at risk of potentially fatal heat wave effects, such as heat stroke.
High temperatures combined with high humidity and air pollution can be lethal. Those most vulnerable are the elderly, young children, the poor, the homeless, the disabled, and those with chronic illness or taking certain medications.
By far the largest group, however, is the elderly because heat tolerance is reduced with age. After 48 hours of heat, seniors’ bodies are less able to compensate and quickly become at risk of heat stroke and death.
This has been shown again and again. The 1995 Chicago heat wave killed more than 700 people, over 70% of whom were seniors.
In 2003 in France, thousands of seniors died during a month-long heat wave. A 2010 Moscow heat wave caused nearly 8,000 deaths in people over 65.
Sarnia-Lambton has more than 24,000 seniors. Of these, 8,000 are over 75 and 6,000 live alone.
We don’t know how many lack a way to stay cool. Nor do we don’t know how many listen to local radio, read local newspapers or watch TV6 — the usual ways that Lambton Public Health announces a heat alert when the Humidex becomes dangerously high.
One solution is the My Community Notification Network (MyCNN) program. Anyone who signs up for this free service will be directly notified of heat alerts by telephone, text or email.
As a 25th anniversary project, Lambton Seniors Association (LSA) is trying to sign up as many seniors as possible — or relatives, friends, neighbours or caregivers who would be willing to keep an eye on a vulnerable senior during a heat alert.
LSA also gives those who register a handy brochure containing public health-approved advice on what to do in a heat alert, including a list of cooling centres that welcome visitors. Like owning a smoke alarm, this is a safety measure that can save lives.
Health Canada says as climate change continues, heat waves will become even more common. Registering for heat alerts could save the life of a vulnerable person.
If you know anyone who could benefit, call LSA at 519-339-8866 or go to www.caer.ca, click MyCNN and follow the instructions.
Let’s try to keep all our seniors safe.
Dave Thomas is a board member with Lambton Seniors Association