Experts underscore how important it is for older adults to stay cool during summer
MARQUETTE — It’s no secret that it’s been a hot summer in the U.P. so far — for seniors, this is of particular concern, because older adults can be vulnerable to extreme temperatures and sudden changes in temperature, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Furthermore, some older adults may have chronic medical conditions that change normal bodily responses to heat and are more likely to take prescription medications that affect their ability to sweat and/or regulate their body’s temperatures — older adults may not recognize that they are hot or dehydrated.
With with long winters and short summers in the Upper Peninsula, many people in the area don’t have air conditioning — and those who do may under-utilize air conditioning due to concerns about keeping energy costs low over the summer.
This makes it critical to educate older adults on how they can stay cool without breaking the bank.
“As we move into the hottest part of summer with long spells of high temperatures, it’s vitally important that our older Michiganders know how to beat the heat while keeping their energy bills affordable,” said Anne Armstrong Cusack, the Michigan Agency for Energy’s executive director.
The Michigan Agency for Energy, or MEA, offers a variety of tips to keep seniors cool while keeping their energy costs down.
“If concerned about the cost of running air conditioning, go to a friend’s house that has air conditioning, an area cooling center, the local mall, the senior center, or a movie theater to get out of the heat,” a release from the MEA states.
It can also help to spend more time on the lower floors, or basement of a home, as heat rises.
“If the senior’s home has a basement, encourage them to spend some time downstairs, where it’s usually cooler than in the main areas of the house.”
The MEA recommends checking up on older adults throughout the summer to ensure they are staying cool and staying hydrated, as drinking lots of cool, nonalcoholic fluids can help keep body temperature in check, while preventing dehydration.
“We also want to remind family, friends, and neighbors to check in on seniors throughout the summer to make sure they are OK and discuss energy-saving tips with them.”
Performing regular air conditioner maintenance and ensuring the air conditioning unit is running efficiently can help keep energy costs down.
“An air conditioner’s filters, coils, and fins require regular maintenance for the unit to function effectively and efficiently throughout its years of service. Neglecting necessary maintenance ensures a steady decline in air conditioning performance while energy use steadily increase,” according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Cleaning and/or replacing an air conditioner’s filter; vacuuming vents and ensuring they are unblocked; cleaning the air conditioner’s drain line and insulating exposed ductwork can all help the unit run more efficiently.
It can also help to install a programmable thermostat that allows the air conditioner to do the most cooling during the hottest periods of the day and less cooling during the coolest parts of the day, according to the Michigan Agency for Energy.
Keeping curtains closed to keep the sun from warming the home’s interior and using ceiling fans or portable fans to circulate air can also increase energy efficiency Shutting air vents in unused or unoccupied rooms in the house can save 5 to 10 percent on cooling costs, according to the MEA.
It can also be helpful to run other major appliances — such as dishwashers, washing machines and dryers during off-peak hours in the evening or nighttime, the MEA states.
In addition to these tips, the MEA recommends singing up for a budget plan with your utility company to even out costs — that way, there won’t be any surprises with summer utility bills, as these plans can make utility costs predictable and spread more evenly throughout the year.
According to the MEA, outside help is available for seniors concerned about their utility bills:
The Michigan Public Service Commission’s customer assistance hotline at 800-292-9555 can help with issues related to utilities.
Call 211 for information and referrals for agencies that can assist with utility payments.
Older adults can get help with utility issues by calling the Legal Hotline for Michigan Seniors at (800) 347-5297.
Contact your utility provider for information on programs that allow income-eligible customers to make payments if they receive a shutoff notice and are unable to pay their bill in full.
Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.