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updated: 7/5/2012 5:41 PM

Seniors: Swallow your pride, ask for help to manage heat

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  • Dorothy Swiatek of Schaumburg and her husband, Henry, are among a group of seniors playing their weekly bingo game in the air-conditioned comfort of Schaumburg Township Hall Thursday.

       Dorothy Swiatek of Schaumburg and her husband, Henry, are among a group of seniors playing their weekly bingo game in the air-conditioned comfort of Schaumburg Township Hall Thursday.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • Schaumburg Park District Commissioner Bob Schmidt calls bingo numbers for seniors playing at the Schaumburg Township Hall Thursday.

       Schaumburg Park District Commissioner Bob Schmidt calls bingo numbers for seniors playing at the Schaumburg Township Hall Thursday.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • Lilian Petersen, right, of Hoffman Estates and Carmela Koblynski, of Schaumburg, are among the seniors playing bingo in the air-conditioned comfort of Schaumburg Township Hall Thursday.

       Lilian Petersen, right, of Hoffman Estates and Carmela Koblynski, of Schaumburg, are among the seniors playing bingo in the air-conditioned comfort of Schaumburg Township Hall Thursday.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • Bernice Parker of Hanover Park keeps her shades on for bingo at the Schaumburg Township Hall Thursday.

       Bernice Parker of Hanover Park keeps her shades on for bingo at the Schaumburg Township Hall Thursday.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

 
 

No doubt senior citizens are among the most vulnerable to the intense heat.

But some experts say the extreme nature of the current heat wave may actually be helping to jog seniors into seeking relief, when their usual plan would be to ride it out.

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"Our seniors are stubborn. They're very proud people," said Gerry Bartnicke, Schaumburg Township director of disability and senior services.

But with a record-setting 103-degree day Thursday, many seniors are respecting the safety tips they might have observed more casually if the highs were in the 90s, she said.

As of Thursday afternoon, three heat-related deaths have been confirmed, one in Maywood, one in Chicago and the third in Lake County -- an elderly man discovered dead in his car in a Park City parking lot late Wednesday, said Lake County Coroner Artis Yancey.

Last week, two seniors checked themselves into Alexian Brothers Medical Center in Elk Grove Village for early signs of heat exhaustion.

Alexian Brothers spokesman Matt Wakely lauded the patients for recognizing the symptoms of heat exhaustion in themselves -- dizziness, shortness of breath -- and taking quick action.

The bad news was they'd been overexerting themselves in the first place by running errands. People forget that what's intended as a quick jaunt to the store can sometimes stretch to 30 minutes or more in traffic, Wakely said.

Schaumburg Township briefly considered canceling its usual Thursday senior lunch and bingo, to let the 100 or more who usually come stay home.

But they decided to go ahead, to give their seniors full advantage of the air-conditioning, and for officials to see for themselves that everyone was OK and remind them to take precautions.

Officials encourage residents to check on friends and neighbors who live alone.

To diffuse any ruffled feathers from seniors who may resent being checked up on, Bartnicke said assure them your courtesy calls are not out of pity, and you know they would do the same for you.

Joyce Palmquist, executive director of the Barrington Area Council on Aging, said the seniors she worries most about are those in older homes without central air.

"Extremes of temperature may overwhelm the effects of a window air-conditioner," Palmquist said.

She suggests seniors with window units adjust their living space to keep themselves and the effects of their air-conditioning to one or two rooms.

Another important tip is for such seniors to remember to drink enough and not just wait until they're thirsty.

"When you're thirsty, it's too late. You're already dehydrated," Palmquist said.

In comparison to seniors living in big, old houses, she's less worried about those in apartments which have less outside exposure and smaller spaces to air-condition or fan.

And though no one is completely safe in such conditions, Palmquist said the seniors she worries least about are those living in organized retirement communities. Even the ones focused on independent living have management staffs who concentrate on looking after their residents.

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