Leader Blues

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

TOP STORY >> Summer weather risky for seniors

Leader staff writer

According to state Health Department officials, those most affected by heat-related illness are people with health problems, very young children and the elderly.

Primarily cooled down through the skin and sweat, a human body has the ability to lose excess heat, but health problems may arise if the body can no longer evaporate the heat.

With heat indices exceeding 105 degrees, Arkansas residents brace for more soaring temperatures mixed with overpowering humidity, ozone action days and burn bans.

At Jacksonville Senior Center, the elderly congregated not only for company but also to stay cool. “All our seniors, 60 and older, are welcome to come over,” said Nikeba Davis, director of the local senior center.

Davis’ father lives in Texarkana and she recalled a recent story about him, which dealt with the sweltering heat of the South.
“He was sitting outside at his home,” she said. “I don’t really think some people realize how hot it really is.”

Two senior citizens knew the difference as they passed the time with friends and relatives in an air-conditioned setting.
One of those citizens has no air-conditioners to rely upon as temperatures reach the high 90s in central Arkansas.
“I can’t afford it,” said Robert Cain of Jacksonville. “I’ve got fans though but it’s pretty hot sometimes.”

As he sat with a friend, Cain expressed he was thankful for the center being open so he and others could stay cool.
Cain initially got acquainted with the local senior center because of its Tuesday night dances.
“I wanted to hear the band,” he told The Leader.

While sipping on iced tea, Jalene Spangler of Jacksonville also attempted to stay cool this week.
“It’s much nicer, much homier, much cooler over here,” Spangler says.

Spangler admits time away from her home lowers the electric bills. She also indicated that she and her husband have differing opinions of what is hot and what is not.

“My husband doesn’t like air-conditioning and it got about 90 degrees the other day inside our home,” Spangler explained.
Spangler also visits the local center for a balanced meal and its exercise program.

The center provides activities ranging from playing dominos to learning ceramics. The center’s hours are from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Davis estimates about 70 senior citizens per day visited last week. She also explained that the air-conditioning unit is down at the senior citizen facility in McAlmont, therefore all citizens are coming to them.

A need for more volunteers rests upon Davis’ shoulders. Those volunteers would be assigned to deliver meals to seniors unable to come to the center located on Victory Circle in Jacksonville.

“Just one day a week, one hour a day would help and they (volunteers) could check on the seniors while delivering meals,” Davis said.

“Sometimes, that is the only person the seniors will see all day and because it so hot, seniors need to be checked on making this a perfect opportunity for someone to volunteer.”

The National Weather Service in North Little Rock predicts more heat advisories in store for Arkansas.
“The whole week will be very, very hot,” said Newton Skiles, NWS senior forecaster. The killer heat wave claimed its first victim in Arkansas.

“Because of HIPPA, we can’t disclose any information about the death,” said Ann Wright, spokesperson for Arkansas Department of Health and Human Services.

Enacted in 1996 across the U.S., the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act has strict rules and regulations about the confidentiality of patient information.

Some of the hottest spots in the state are DeQueen after it recently hit 104 degrees and as the mercury inked its way up to 103 degrees in Texarkana.

Both of these temperatures were registered without heat indices.

Jacksonville ranked lower with a temperature of 97 degrees but factoring in a heat index bumped it up to 104 degrees, Skiles explained. A shortage of rainfall averaging about 2 inches below normal prompted a burn ban to be issued for Pulaski County.

Besides the Jacksonville Senior Center, the city provides no emergency centers to provide cool comfort during these days of extreme warmth.

Asked if the Jacksonville Community Center would be open to provide an air-condition setting for those without, Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim explained that there are not any plans currently underway for such an effort.
“No, we’ve not done that in the past,” Swaim told The Leader.

It is not known how many heat-related illnesses have been treated at Rebsamen Medical Center because of its current record-keeping system, according to Kristen James, a spokesperson for the local hospital.
“We do see an increase with the start of baseball and football practices,” she says.

James indicated that the start of intense military outdoor training also sparks more victims of heat-related illnesses showing up at the hospital. Most of the above victims who end up at the hospital are primarily treated for either dehydration or heat exhaustion, according to James.

Two tips in helping to ward off those types of heat-related illnesses are to drink plenty of water preferably containing sodium and to wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.

On heat advisory days, health officials recommend residents stay inside.

Skiles predicts temperatures will drop to the mid-90s by Saturday and possibly dip into the low 90s either Sunday or next Monday marking a reprieve of this week’s extreme heat.

Despite the predicted decrease in the temperatures, summer has not lost its grip on Arkansas.
“The long range forecast is a little bit warmer than normal for summer here,” Skiles said.

In 2005, seven people died of heat-related illnesses by Aug. 29, according to ADHHS.
In 1980, the state registered 153 heat-related deaths.