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Take proper steps to avoid heat stroke

(ran HT, CI, PT, NP editions)

Summer heat waves pose a potentially deadly risk for older people, but commonsense rules can prevent heat stroke, exhaustion and other serious health problems.

In 1995, several hundred Chicagoans lost their lives to scorching weather that pushed the thermometer into the 100s for several days running. Most of the fatalities were among the elderly, said Maralee I. Lindley, director of Illinois' Department on Aging.

Communities are taking action against the threat, though. Throughout the nation, Lindley said, many communities have opened "cooling centers" where people with health problems but no air-conditioning can spend the day.

Family members and neighbors "should also check in with older people who may be unable or unwilling to seek help on their own," said Lindley.

Other tips for older people and their relatives, friends and caregivers include:

Drink lots of water and juices; avoid coffee, colas and alcohol.

Keep shades and blinds drawn, but windows slightly open.

Take cool showers or sponge baths; use cool towels.

Remain in air-conditioned rooms or by an electric fan. Call 911 or your local senior center if neither is available.

Wear loose, light cotton clothing and do not eat heavy meals.

Minimize oven-cooked meals and heavy physical chores.

Check on family members, friends and neighbors.

Call a local hospital or senior center if you want to volunteer to help older people during your community's next heat wave.