As climate change increases the frequency and intensity of heat waves across Canada, it is necessary to check in with people who are vulnerable to the extreme heat, especially older adults.
Researchers at the National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health (NCCEH) and University of Ottawa developed a health check guide to aid Canadians in identifying vulnerable populations and provide guidance on how to stay cool during extreme heat events.
“Some people are at higher risk of experiencing heat-related illness. Regularly checking in with susceptible people to see how they are coping can dramatically reduce heat-related illness and death,” said Adrian Dix, B.C.’s Minister of Health, in a statement.
NCCEH, housed at the BC Centre for Disease Control, has collaborated with Glen Kenny at the Human and Environmental Physiology Research Unit of the University of Ottawa to create a guide for doing in-person checks and virtual ones. The guide also includes information on how to recognize heat-related illnesses.
”Regular health checks are one of many tools we can use to keep people safer during extreme heat events,” says Dr. Sarah Henderson, scientific director of the NCCEH and Environmental Health Services at the BC Centre for Disease Control.
“Many susceptible people may not recognize when they are overheating, but another person can help identify a risky situation with some careful questions and observations. Check in as often as possible. At least twice a day and once in the evening when it is hottest indoors.”
While air conditioners are great tools for keeping cool, they are not accessible to every person. And for people who live in old buildings or in urban heat islands, indoor temperatures are often hotter than outside. So sustained indoor temperatures over 26 C can pose a health risk, and sustained temperatures over 31 C can be dangerous.
“Heat-related illness can occur following prolonged exposure to hot environments where the body’s ability to dissipate heat is overwhelmed, leading to potentially dangerous increases in body temperature,” says Kenny.
“Severe heat-related illness, conditions such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke, are more likely to occur in older people and those with medical conditions.”