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    Bay Area Heat Wave

    By Dr. Marcy Adelman–

    The recent heat wave that hit the Bay Area broke all records. Downtown San Francisco on Friday, September 1, set an all-time high of 106 degrees. The city’s previous all-time high temperature was 103 degrees in 2000. The weather service reported that it was going to be hot, very hot. I knew a heatwave was coming, and that it would last the weekend, but boy, even with the warnings, the intensity of the heat wave was startling. On Saturday morning, I woke to this extraordinary sunrise and quickly took a photo.

    Rather than take this heatwave as a one-off experience, it can be understood as fitting into a pattern of increasingly higher temperatures due to global warming. Heatwaves are less destructive to health, life and property than hurricanes and tornados, but they are, nonetheless, a risk to health and life, and especially to older adults and elders with chronic health issues. According to the National Institute of Aging, older adults with cardiovascular conditions and people on some prescription drugs are at especially high risk.

    Hyperthermia is an abnormally high body temperature caused by a failure of the body’s heat-regulating mechanisms to deal with the heat coming from the environment. You are at risk for hyperthermia if you are dehydrated, have been diagnosed with heart, lung or kidney disease, have high blood pressure, or take certain medications, such as diuretics, sedatives, tranquillizers or some heart and blood pressure drugs.

    To avoid hyperthermia, stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water; eating light meals; wearing light cloths and a hat if you go out; seeking air-conditioned environments like a library, mall or community center; buying a fan, and avoiding caffeine and alcohol. You also can reduce body temperature by taking a cold shower or applying cold, wet cloths to your wrists, neck, armpits and groin.

    Heat stroke is a life-threatening form of hyperthermia. It occurs when the body temperature rises to 104F (40C) or higher. The common symptoms of heat stroke are fatigue, dizziness, feeling faint, muscle cramps, high body temperature, rapid pulse, rapid breadth or trouble breathing and disorientation. To avoid serious risk of injury or death, call 911. 

    High temperatures can also negatively impact air quality. Poor air quality can have a major effect on people with asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Children are more sensitive to pollutants and are more likely than any other age group to be challenged by asthma. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a group of lung disorders that results in blocked airways. COPD, such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis, is most common in older adults. 

    In California, heatwaves and summer wildfires are a dangerous mix that further reduces air quality by affecting ozone levels. According to the Bay Area Air Quality District, the smoke this weekend from wildfires in Northern California was a major contributor to the Spare the Air alert for the Bay Area. High temperatures alone can be cause for an alert, but this time, it was both temperature and ozone levels.

    Air quality alerts are reported on local television and radio news. You can also go directly to Spare the Air alerts at or receive air pollution forecasts and alerts by going to AirNow ( or call 415-749-4900. If there is a “Spare the Air” alert and you have asthma or COPD, stay inside and reduce your level of exercise.

    During heatwaves, check in with your neighbors and your friends. Ask them how they are and if they could use some assistance. If you have a fan to lend, let them know. If you are feeling a little dizzy and fatigued yourself, call a friend or relative and let them know. Stay safe.

    Marcy Adelman, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in private practice, is co-founder of the non-profit organization Openhouse. She is also a leading advocate and educator in LGBT affirming dementia care and a member of the Advisory Council to the Aging and Adult Services Commission.