Proactive steps, including virtual communication, help protect health and can save lives
SAN DIEGO, Aug. 3, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- As cities across the United States cope with record-breaking heat waves this summer, it is critical for those who care for the elderly to proactively protect their health, says Dr. Richard Della Penna, Chief Medical Officer of Independa™, Inc. and a leading expert on elder care. He adds that emerging technology makes it easier to take precautions and learn of potential issues.
"The elderly are at greater risk than the general population during extremely hot weather because our bodies don't respond to changes in temperature in the same way as we get older," Della Penna says. "Beyond causing discomfort, sustained heat and humidity are dangerous for older people."
Why Elderly Are Susceptible
Among contributing factors, the elderly don't always feel as warm as younger people do in higher temperatures, and don't necessarily sense thirst. Medical conditions can further diminish elders' ability to cope with heat-related stress, and medications can interfere with their bodies' cooling capabilities, Della Penna adds.
Habits and lifestyles also play a role. Because they chill easily, older adults tend to dress warmly. They may not have air conditioning or fans, and even if they do, those on fixed incomes often hesitate to use these electrical devices. In urban areas, the elderly frequently shut their windows and doors for fear of crime.
"Isolation is certainly a risk factor for older people," Della Penna says. "Many of the people who die during heat waves are elders who live alone and don't have anyone to check on them."
During the hot spell that struck Chicago in July 1995, 371 of the 522 deaths reported involved people age 65 or older. This summer, the National Weather Service attributed as many as 64 deaths to the heat wave in late July as Midwestern, Eastern and Southern states experienced temperatures in the 90s and 100s.
How Caregivers Can Help
Della Penna is calling on caregivers to act now, using technology for virtual communication and monitoring if they don't live nearby or are away on vacation.
"New technology allows remote caregivers to be proactive and be notified of possible danger signs," he says.
Della Penna recommends the following measures for caregivers:
- Monitor weather reports, and reach out to care recipients when the weather forecast calls for a heat wave, so you can help them plan. Independa customers currently can arrange to receive alerts tied to outside temperatures, for example if the temperature hits 90 degrees, and can monitor care recipients' local weather conditions from their software dashboard.
- Encourage elders to wear light, loose-fitting clothing.
- Advise older people to drink water or juice throughout the day. Independa's telecare reminder platform can be programmed to send recipients reminders to drink fluids at regular intervals.
- Encourage care recipients to use air conditioning or fans in their homes, or to move to cooler environments in friends' homes, cooling centers or other public places. If necessary, prearrange for transportation.
- Suggest minimizing activities that generate heat in the home, including cooking with the stove or oven.
- Recommend avoiding strenuous exercise.
- Speak with a care recipient's physician about medications and ask about possible short-term changes, for example, to guard against dehydration.
"Taking advantage of technology benefits care receivers and caregivers," Della Penna says. "By providing tips for the elderly and helping them plan for hot temperatures, caregivers can empower those in their care to protect themselves. Caregivers can also use technology to 'see' into their loved ones' or patients' homes and intervene if something doesn't seem quite right."
Della Penna is guiding Independa's efforts to help family and professional caregivers prolong elderly individuals' independence by promoting their health, safety and social engagement remotely. He previously served as the National Elder Care Clinical Lead and Medical Director for the Kaiser Permanente Aging Network and is a National Alzheimer's Association board member and a member of the Veterans Administration's Geriatrics and Gerontology Advisory Committee.
About Independa, Inc.
Independa, Inc. provides an integrated platform to help family and professional caregivers enable their loved ones and patients to continue living at home longer, more safely and more comfortably. Independa specializes in delivering technology-enabled products and services for the rapidly growing population of nearly 50 million U.S. adults supporting elderly relatives. It also supports home-care and other professionals offering remote care. Independa provides an integrated, cost-effective and real-time answer to the key question, "How is my loved one doing?" With Independa, caregivers can delay or eliminate the costly and dreaded move to an assisted living facility.
Independa's cross-disciplined leadership team and expert advisory board understand the market, technology and needs of the elderly and their caregivers. Privately held and based in San Diego, Independa has closed its second seed round and is in active discussions with next-stage investors and strategic partners.