As the summer of 2023 appears poised to be the hottest on record, caregiving expert Donna Benton shares how caregivers can help vulnerable older adults stay healthy despite the heat.
“It is predicted that this is not just going to be our hottest summer, but we’re going to have more extreme weather events, so we need to be prepared,” says Benton, research associate professor at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology and director of the USC Family Caregiver Support Center (FCSC). “There are things that caregivers can do to make sure that an older adult is safe during these type of heat emergencies that we’re witnessing more.”
Check in and prepare
Simply checking in with loved ones, friends, or neighbors and making some quick preparations can be hugely beneficial, Benton says.
“It’s nice to have a checklist of things that you can do,” she says. “Can you make sure the person has enough water in their house? Are you aware of where the cooling centers are? If you have an extra fan and that person doesn’t have one, can you loan them a fan? [Is there] a list of their doctors, so that if you need to call the doctor and describe what’s going on, they can tell you the next steps to do if somebody’s feeling ill?”
This is especially important for people living alone, Benton adds: “It’s important if you can at least have one other person who checks on you on a regular basis. That way, if there’s an emergency, you should have somebody who knows.”
Know who’s at risk
Older people are at heightened risk during heat waves, especially in low-income communities, Benton explained.
“The highest-risk people during this climate change are people who are ill; a lot of older adults already have some illnesses,” she says. “People who are in low income areas [may not] have accessible ways of cooling their home. … Older adults are more vulnerable during extreme heat and other natural disasters because they may have physical limitations so that they can’t get out of the home.”
New training program for caregivers
The Los Angeles Caregiver Resource Center, a program of the FCSC, is partnering with UCLA to launch HeatWise, a training program for informal caregivers on helping older adults prepare for heatwaves and recognizing the signs of heat-related illness. The HeatWise program was proposed by UCLA student Nikolas Wianecki and was named a winner of the 2023 Health Equity Challenge, a competition presented by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, The MolinaCares Accord, and the California Health Care Foundation.
Benton says the HeatWise program will feature online and printed toolkits with checklists, resources, and lists of symptoms all related to heat as well as workshops to help caregivers learn how to respond to heat emergencies.
“[The toolkit] be easy to read, with things you can rip out and fill in so that you have your checklist ready and you can individualize it,” she says. “It’s really an exciting project.”
Watch below as Donna Benton shares how to help older adults in times of extreme heat.