Planning for Extreme Heat … in June?
For years, Pacific Northwest residents have known that summer usually doesn’t start until July 5. Sometimes it seemed like a cold and rainy Independence Day was almost inevitable. But 2021 was different. From June 26–29, 2021, we experienced what meteorologists say was a 1,000-year weather event. Daytime temperatures rose to all-time highs—well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Overall, from late June to mid-July 2022, more than 1,400 people in the western United States and Canada died due to extreme heat. Heat drove more than 3,500 people across four states to visit emergency rooms.
We know that age (45 and up), underlying health conditions (e.g., diabetes, respiratory issues, and circulatory problems), certain medications, hydration, and activity level can affect how your body reacts to extreme heat. We also know that high evening and nighttime temperatures can take a great toll.
Aging and Disability Services’ Case Management Program does a tremendous job during extreme weather events (heat, cold, wildfire smoke). With more than 14,000 clients who receive some form of in-home support, our case managers and social service aides run lists of clients who are most vulnerable—for instance, clients with mobility challenges or breathing difficulty—and then they make hundreds of phone calls to resolve problems and ensure that basic needs are met. Many of our community partners do the same.
Sometimes it feels like we hear how we should prepare for extreme weather after the event has already begun. So, while summer weather seems a long way off (yet may be right around the corner), I want to let you know some tips that can help you and your loved ones stay safe:
- Make a plan. What is the coolest room in your home? Sometimes this is a basement. Can you set up a space to sit and engage in low-effort activities like reading or watching TV? Can you sleep there, if necessary?
- Consider your pets. How can you ensure that your pet stays cool, fed, and hydrated?
- Set up a hydration station. If it will be difficult to get to the refrigerator during a heat wave, find a portable cooler and stock up on ice in your freezer. Make sure you have access to lots of water.
- Consider air conditioning. If you have financial resources, buy a portable air conditioning unit now, while they’re in good supply. If you cannot afford to purchase, find out if you qualify for a free portable air conditioner through LIHEAP—the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. If you think you may be eligible, you can apply through the Multi-Service Center (South King County); Hopelink (Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond, Shoreline & Carnation); or Byrd Barr Place (Seattle).
- If you have a fan, use it to push cooler air into a hot room. When that’s not possible, you can put frozen water bottles in front of the fan to cool the air before it gets to you.
- Cooling stations. What is your nearest “cooling station”—shopping mall, library, community center, senior center, or air-conditioned homes of family or friends? Look up addresses, phone numbers, and open hours in advance.
- If you have difficulty moving around your home, consider who you can call for assistance in moving to a cooler space or a cooler place. If you depend on public transit for community mobility, set aside sufficient roundtrip bus fare.
- Identify loose clothing with breathable fabrics, like cotton or linen. And this may sound strange, but some people put their pajamas and nightgowns in the freezer for an hour before getting ready for bed.
- Home repairs. If you open a window at night but it has no screen or the screen is broken, you are inviting insects to visit. Inventory your window screens in advance and include repair or replacement in your plan, if warranted.
- Family, friends, and neighbors. It’s important to stay connected. Check in on the people you care about. If you use a cell phone, keep it charged and be sure your charger is handy when you move to a cooler room or place. Also, share this article!
I want to revisit an early comment about diabetes and respiratory and circulatory problems. Since these are common conditions among older people, I want to emphasize the importance of planning ahead but also consulting your health care provider if heat causes you any unexpected reactions.
For more information, visit “Hot weather: How to stay cool and safe” (Public Health—Seattle & King County); “Extreme Heat” (King County Office of Emergency Management); and “Excessive Heat” (Seattle Office of Emergency Management).
And finally, know who to call if you need help. In a true medical emergency, call 911. For local services related to aging or disability, call Community Living Connections at (toll-free 844-348-5464). For other local services, call King County 211.
Service on behalf of the Aging Network
Are you a community champion interested in shaping the future of aging and disability supports in King County? Are you a passionate advocate looking for an opportunity to serve on a local government advisory board?
We have several seats to fill on the Seattle-King County Advisory Council for Aging & Disability Services (ADS Advisory Council), which I chair. We are a 21-member commission that advocates for a robust and equitable service delivery system for older adults, family caregivers, and people with disabilities in King County. Council members advise ADS and its County partners on budgets, policies, and program priorities and play a critical role in shaping the work of ADS as the state-designated Area Agency on Aging for King County.
Advisory Council members must demonstrate a commitment to advancing aging services and improving access to better serve communities in an inclusive and accessible way. ADS centers community in its work and reaffirms its long-standing commitment towards inclusion and belonging for all. We strongly encourage Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC) folks, women, people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ people, East and South County residents, rural residents, older adults (over age 60), and multicultural and/or multilingual community members to apply.
Candidates need to submit a completed application form, resume, and cover letter. For more information, visit our webpage. Questions about Advisory Council service? Contact ADS Advisory Council Liaison Sariga Santhosh at Sariga.Santhosh@seattle.gov or 206-379-3851.
Contributor Joe Hailey chairs the Seattle-King County Advisory Council on Aging & Disability Services. He welcomes input from readers via e-mail (email@example.com). For more information, visit www.agingkingcounty.org/advisory-council.
This article originally appeared in the June 2022 issue of AgeWise King County.