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NC Seniors Underestimate the Dangers of Heat

July 11, 2011

WILLIAMSTON, N.C. - It's a summer of record-breaking heat around North Carolina, and it's taking a toll on the state's older people, especially those without air conditioning. Since most didn't grow up with cooling systems, many of them consider it an unnecessary luxury. But the 90-degree-plus temperatures most of the state is seeing weigh heavily on the elderly, who do not adjust as well as young people to heat, and some of them take drugs that make it even more difficult for their bodies to regulate temperature.

Reginald Speight, chief executive officer of the Martin Community Action Agency, says traditional measures just won't do it.

"They believe they'll be all right if they're able to open a window, or with a fan, and that's just not going to be enough in the kind of heat that we have, along with the humidity. The body doesn't respond to the heat as well as it used to."

There are at least 27 Community Action Agencies across the state that offer weatherization services, assisting the elderly with insulation, air conditioning systems, and, in the winter, with heating.

Speight says his team can often take one look at a senior citizen's home from the outside, and know if the person needs help.

"You see an older person sitting outside on their porch. That and doors and windows open is an immediate sign for us as we ride through neighborhoods. It's an immediate flag for us, especially on a day like today."

Much of the funding for weatherization comes from federal stimulus dollars. Hundreds of seniors in North Carolina have already received assistance.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC