In March, more than 90 cities across the country saw record high average temperatures, allowing many to enjoy the great outdoors weeks earlier than they expected.
But, for the elderly and chronically ill, an early summer may not be such a good thing.
In the warmer seasons, temperatures can vary a lot in a 24-hour period. Depending on where you live, the sun may rise on a 60 degree morning, and set on an 80 degree evening. These tetchy temperatures could be harmful to seniors, according to a recent study from Harvard University.
After gathering data on two decades of chronically-ill Medicare recipients, researchers concluded that irregular temperature fluctuations may cause as many as 10,000 extra deaths among the elderly nationwide each year.
Even tiny temperature increases (less than two degrees Fahrenheit), may increase an elderly person's risk of death as much as four percent, depending on which chronic health conditions they suffer from.
The study found that seniors suffering from heart disease, heart failure, diabetes and chronic lung disease were highly susceptible to changing temperatures.
"Older people and those with chronic health conditions have a harder time thermo-regulating and acclimating to heat," says Antonella Zanobetti, Ph.D, a senior research scientist for the Harvard School of Public Health, and co-author of the study.
While prior research has made the association between heat waves and a heightened risk of death, this is the first study to connect long-term mortality and minor temperature variations, a link that study authors say is becoming increasingly relevant as the consequences of global climate change begin to appear.
Summer may bring dangerous swings
Across the board, we can expect to see an increase in the length and strength of heat waves this summer.
But,this doesn't mean that seniors and their caregivers should hole up in their homes and crank up the A/C—it just means that outdoor odysseys should be carefully planned.
If you and your elderly loved one want to enjoy the summer air, encourage them to wear clothing that is breathable and lightweight, with a broad-brimmed hat to shelter their head and neck from the sun.
Also, be sure pack enough water to keep both of you hydrated, and seek out places with a lot of trees and bushes. One of the key findings from the Harvard study was that people in areas with plentiful plant life weren't as negatively affected by changing temperatures.
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