In its 13th year, the County of San Diego provides cool zones to prevent heat health issues
Last summer, an ambulance was required every day for a person with a heat-related illness in San Diego. One of the worst things about that statistic—in most cases, it was completely preventable. At the La Mesa Adult Enrichment Center, Supervisor Dianne Jacob visited with a room full of seniors to discuss the county’s designated Cool Zones. Places with air-conditioning offering a respite from the temperature surges that often cause heat-related illnesses. Heat-related illnesses can be deadly, especially in those over a specific age.
Cool Zones have been helping people beat the heat for 13 years now, the idea conceived by Jacobs out of concern for people over the age of 65. Particularly vulnerable in summer, it benefits their overall health to spend time in a public, air-conditioned place. According to the CDC, 40 percent of heat-related deaths are in people ages 65 and older (an in all heat-related deaths, two-thirds are men). As people age, the ability to adjust to heat decreases. Seniors are more likely to have a chronic medical condition. They are also more likely to be on prescriptions that inhibit perspiration and the body’s ability to regulate heat.
On the hottest of summer days, some people find (and potentially ignore) the fact that self-managing health in a home without air-conditioning becomes physically harder than in years past. These people are the intended demographic for Cool Zones. Finding relief is too easy not to accept.
There are 100 Cool Zones throughout the city, recognizable by a sky blue Cool Zone decal, complete with a polar bear, in the window of libraries, senior centers and participating businesses and public places. In addition to providing a safe, climate-controlled atmosphere, Cool Zones save energy. If people go to an already air-conditioned business, they’re not running their own lights, television, or fans. The social upside of Cool Zones is valuable as well. “Isolation can be directly related to health. It’s not a healthy thing to do,” said Jacob.
Seniors tend to socialize in the Cool Zones, make connections and build camaraderie, especially in the Senior Centers where they can also enjoy meals together.
Climate control for the home is not out of reach for lower income residents, either. For San Diegans who need assistance paying for their electric bill, SDG&E offers the CARE program for qualified households. Also offered is the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).
Such programs, are part of the civic effort to take care of the aging generations. Things as simple as checking in one older neighbors or relatives, offering a ride to a Cool Zone, or knowing the signs of heat-related illnesses help on a community level. All of these factors can be the difference between life and death. Extreme heat is responsible for the deaths of more Americans each year than hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods and earthquakes combined.
To find a designated Cool Zone, log onto coolzones.org, or call 1-800-510-2020, extension 6.
Know the symptoms, just in case:
* Body temperature of 103 degrees or higher
* No sweating
* Rapid, strong pulse
* Throbbing headache