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Elderly people at greater risk for health complications in brutal heat

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Posted at 8:39 PM, Jul 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-10 00:08:00-04

GOLDEN, Colo. — Sizzling temperatures across the state affect everyone differently and put seniors at a greater risk of heat-related health complications that can turn deadly.

As the heat cranks up, Sue Mitchell, 86, and her husband, George Mitchell, 90, take shelter inside their home in Golden.

“It’s hot, and I don’t like the heat very much, and I don’t do too well, so I just don’t do much outside, and I stay inside,” Sue Mitchell said.

The couple has lived in their home for 45 years, and it doesn’t have central air. The Mitchells rely on their attic fan and common sense, like turning off the lights to stay cool.

“We close the windows during the daytime, and we open the windows at night,” Sue Mitchell said. “We leave the curtains pulled in the daytime — that keeps it cooler."

The couple sipped on water as they sat next to each other in the living room.

People 65 and older are more prone to heat-related problems, like heat stress, due to a variety of reasons that include chronic health problems and medication, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A study released by the CDC shows that during 2004 and 2018, there were 4,019 deaths among those 65 and up across the U.S., 39% of the total deaths, making it the largest population affected.

Visiting Angels provides seniors with in-home care. They were hired by the Mitchells to help them care for their health and basic needs. Three times a week, a caretaker visits the Mitchells. Anne Keeler, a client care manager with Visiting Angels, says caretakers make sure their clients stay hydrated and stay inside when the heat turns up.

“A lot of water, no caffeine drinks, that they are wearing light clothing for sure, light color clothing in particular,” Keeler said.

She adds that it’s critical that seniors stay inside between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., when it’s the hottest, and limit their workouts.

The heat spell has impacted Denver the greatest, with four 100 degree days so far. This summer is already ranked 5th for the most 100 degree days.

Denver County is home to nearly 727,211 people, and nearly 12% are 65 years old and up. Experts say keeping the elderly cool and checking on them regularly is key to keeping them safe.

A few years back, Sue Mitchell recalls suffering from heat-related complications while walking six blocks to get to the Coors Field to catch a baseball game. On that day, she said she had to seek help. It’s a day that changed her outlook on how she cares for herself when temperatures reach past 80 degrees.

“Don’t let it go too far. Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” Sue Mitchell said.

Sue and George Mitchell keep busy inside their home reading books. George Mitchell cools off in his basement office when the first floor gets too hot. The couple has two kids that live nearby and also check on them once a day to make sure they are safe.

Various cities also offer cooling centers for people who don't have access to air conditioners.