PO Box 360
Trenton, NJ 08625-0360

For Release:
May 29, 2013

Mary E. O'Dowd, M.P.H.
Commissioner

For Further Information Contact:
Office of Communications
(609) 984-7160

UMDNJ Press Release - First Heat Wave of Season Puts Elderly at Risk

STRATFORD, NJ - With the first heat wave of the season poised to descend on the region, Dr. Thomas Cavalieri, a geriatrician and the dean of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-School of Osteopathic Medicine, is reminding residents to check on elderly neighbors and relatives who may not be aware of the dangers that come with hot weather.

"More than 40 percent of heat-related deaths occur in people aged 65 or older," said Dr. Cavalieri, who is also the founding director of the New Jersey Institute for Successful Aging at the medical school. "An older individual's body will be slower to adjust to temperature changes, which makes them particularly vulnerable when the season's first heat wave strikes. This is especially true in a situation like we are seeing this week with the rapid transition from cooler weather to extreme, and prolonged, high temperatures."

During hot weather, older individuals may unknowingly increase their risk by overdressing, refusing to use air conditioners or fans because of financial worries, or by remaining behind closed doors and windows out of concerns for personal safety. At the same time, seniors who lack easy access to transportation may be unable to travel to places that have air conditioning, such as senior centers or cooling centers set up by local public health officials. A lack of mobility can also be a risk factor for heat-related illness. An individual who has difficulty walking or getting up from a chair may not make the attempt to get something to drink, even when thirsty.

"Dehydration is a big concern for everyone in hot weather, but it is a particular concern for older individuals," Dr. Cavalieri noted. "Many older individuals have a diminished thirst reflex that keeps them from drinking adequate amounts of liquid. At the same time, they may be taking medications that cause them to urinate a lot, causing additional fluid loss on top of perspiration from the heat."

To help elderly neighbors and relatives during the heat wave, Dr. Cavalieri is asking area residents to: 

  • Check on elderly relatives and neighbors twice daily during hot weather
  • Make sure older individuals are appropriately dressed in lightweight clothing
  • Encourage non-caffeine fluids and make sure they are within easy reach
  • If safety concerns or finances keep older individuals behind closed doors without air conditioning or fans, offer to stay with them while windows are open or to take them to an air conditioned environment
  • Know the warning signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Heat exhaustion causes heavy perspiration, dizziness, weakness and nausea. Treat it with rest, drinks of cool water every 10 - 15 minutes and apply cool, wet cloths directly to the skin. Seek immediate medical help if symptoms don't improve quickly or suddenly worsen. Heat stroke causes all the symptoms of heat exhaustion, without the perspiration. Other symptoms include fainting, staggering or acting in a strange or confused manner. Heat stroke is a life threatening condition. If you suspect heat stroke, call 911 or emergency medical services for immediate help

Journalists interested in interviewing Dr. Thomas Cavalieri, should contact Jerry Carey, UMDNJ News Service, 856-566-6171 or at careyge@umdnj.edu.

The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) is New Jersey's only health sciences university with more than 6,000 students on five campuses attending three medical schools, the State's only dental school, a graduate school of biomedical sciences, a school of health related professions, a school of nursing and New Jersey's only school of public health. UMDNJ operates University Hospital, a Level I Trauma Center in Newark, and University Behavioral HealthCare, which provides a continuum of healthcare services with multiple locations throughout the state.