Concerns for some as early heat wave approaches

WESTWOOD, Mass. — And suddenly it’s summer — as in a heatwave. And senior centers across the state are getting ready to serve as cooling centers.

“We always worry about seniors in the heat and cold,” said Westwood’s Senior Center Director Lina Arena-DeRosa. “My biggest concern is that they kind of think that they’re fine and they’re not fine. Pay attention to your friends, your neighbors, the elderly in your community and reach out to them because this is going to be pretty bad this week.”

Doing so could save someone’s life, said John Broach, MD, director of Emergency Disaster Medicine at UMass Memorial Medical Center.

“Especially elderly folks have difficulty maintaining body temperature... getting rid of heat so they can maintain a core body temperature that’s normal,” said Broach.

Complicating things further: the elderly may have comorbidities and take medications that make the body more sensitive to heat. And thirst is not a reliable indicator of dehydration, said Broach, who expects a big rise in heat-related illness this week.

“When you begin to feel very thirsty, you’re already behind the eight-ball a bit in terms of catching up,” he said.

One study suggests that early heatwaves are usually more deadly because, to some extent, the body gets used to warmer weather and thus can tolerate excessive heat better as the summer goes on.

Young children are in the same boat as the elderly, when it comes to heat intolerance, Broach said. Signs of dehydration in a child can include an absence of wet diapers, listlessness, and warm skin.

“I have their water bottle, making sure they’re constantly drinking even if they don’t feel thirsty,” said Nanny Jacirah Fernandes. “Because you don’t want them to get dehydrated when it gets too hot.”

Fernandes brought her charges to Milton’s Houghton’s Pond which, technically, was closed to swimming because of bacterial contamination. It is one of 23 public beaches in Massachusetts off limits to swimming (but not wading) because of some sort of contamination — whether it be bacterial or algal.

Most kids at Houghton’s Pond thus only went ankle-deep in the water, including Cassie Ramos’s son and daughter.

“These kids, if they can get their feet in the water they’re perfectly fine,” said Ramos. “So I’m not too worried about them cooling off. It’s more myself, on the beach and getting a little bit more sun than I expected.”

And a lot more sun is on the way — with potentially record-breaking heat enveloping the region for at least three days.

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu declared a heat emergency for the period — and ordered schools that are air-conditioned to keep students inside if the heat outside is excessive. Just ten Boston public schools have zero air conditioning. Air quality sensors in the classrooms at one of them, Bates Elementary, showed temperatures around or even above 80 degrees by the end of the day — and the heatwave hasn’t even begun.

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