Assisted Living Community Safety and Heat-Related Illnesses

Heat is the cause of more reported weather-related deaths than anything else in the United States, including in the state of California. Nearly every single heat death in California was avoidable – these people, most of whom are vulnerable older women and men, simply did not need to die.

The tremendous heatwave that pounded California in 2022 put thousands of lives at risk. This included residents of the state’s assisted living communities. Most meteorologists believe that the state will experience the same level of high temperatures during summertime months in the years to come. 

With that said, California assisted living communities have become proactive in addressing potentially deadly weather that is occurring in the state in recent times. A set of strategies are available to assisted living communities when it comes to safety and protecting against heat-related illnesses. We discuss these tips, tactics, and strategies in this article.

General Tips to Protect Against Heat-Related Illnesses Among Assisted Living Resident

There are some very basic tips that you can implement in your life as an assisted living resident during hot days in California. Following these tips can be helpful in assisting a resident of a long-term care community to avoid heat-related illness during the challenging days of summertime.

  • Never leave frail elderly individuals in an unattended parked car, even for a few minutes
  • Drink plenty of fluids, particularly water
  • Don’t wait to drink until you fee thirsty – do so consistently and throughout the day
  • Dress in lightweight clothing
  • Dress in loose fitting clothing
  • Use sunscreen
  • Wear a hat when out of doors
  • Drink sports beverages to replace salts and minerals (check with a doctor first if on a low sodium diet)
  • Keep activities to a minimum during hottest parts of the day
  • Stay indoors in an air conditioned space if at all possible
  • Use fans as needed
  • Open windows to allow fresh air to circulate during cooler parts of the day (night)
  • Use cool compresses
  • Take a cool shower or bath
  • Avoid hot (heated or spicy) foods
  • Avoid heavy meals
  • Eat frozen treats (like popsicles) for snacks

Warning Signs of Heat Stroke

Heat stroke is a very dangerous medical situation, particularly for an older person. Heat stroke occurs when a person cannot control his or her body temperature. It most often occurs when an individual is exposed to particularly hot outdoor temperatures. 

Heat stroke can result in a person experiencing disability or even death, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The primary warning signs of heat stroke are:

  • Extremely high body temperature (above 103 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Red, hot and dry skin
  • Lack of sweating
  • Rapid, strong pulse
  • Throbbing headache
  • Unconsciousness
  • Death

Warning Signs of Heat Exhaustion

Generally speaking, heat exhaustion poses a less severe health threat to older individuals (and others) than does heat stroke. Nonetheless, heat exhaustion can pose significant health risks to people, particularly women and men in their Golden Years. 

The warning signs of heat exhaustion include:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Muscle cramps
  • Weakness
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Paleness
  • Tiredness
  • Dizziness

What to Do When Heat Exhaustion or Heat Stroke Occurs

If a person appears to exhibit the signs of heat stroke or heat exhaustion, bear in mind that a life-threatening emergency very well could be at hand, according to the California Department of Public Health. This particularly is the case if the victim of heat stroke or heat exhaustion is an older individual. If you believe a person is suffering from heat stroke or heat exhaustion, immediately put these steps into motion:

  • Call 911
  • Begin to cool the victim of heat stroke or heat exhaustion
  • Move the victim to a shaded area
  • If possible, treat the victim in a cool bath or shower or by sponging the person with cool water
  • Continue cooling the victim until body temperature drops to 101 to 102 degrees Fahrenheit
  • If emergency personnel are delayed, call the hospital emergency department for further instruction
  • If the victim’s muscles twitch uncontrollably as a result of heat stroke, keep the victim from injury, but do not place any object in the mouth and do not give fluids 
  • If the victim is vomiting, make sure the airway remains open by turning the victim on the side

Assisted Living Heat Emergency Response Plan

As is the case with other types of emergencies, an assisted living community needs to have a heat emergency response plan. The California State Office of Emergency Services advised that the elements of an assisted living community heat emergency response plan are:

  • Keep emergency telephone numbers up to date. 
  • Have a contingency plan in case the facility’s air conditioning system goes down
  • Have a specific evacuation plan in the event that residents need to be removed from the facility and taken to a cooling center, motel, or some other safe location