Philly workshops help seniors avoid heat health hazards

 Tenant Virgina Mendoza stays cool with her fan and air conditioner, at her home in Apartamentos Las Americas during a well-being check by the Chicago Housing Authority Friday, July 6, 2012, in Chicago. (M. Spencer Green/AP Photo, file)

Tenant Virgina Mendoza stays cool with her fan and air conditioner, at her home in Apartamentos Las Americas during a well-being check by the Chicago Housing Authority Friday, July 6, 2012, in Chicago. (M. Spencer Green/AP Photo, file)

The Philadelphia Department of Public Health, along with Lutheran Disaster Response, local climate scientists and community groups are organizing workshops for seniors to learn how to stay cool. The U.S. population is aging, with the population 65 or older estimated to almost double by 2050. Climate change is expected to bring more frequent heat waves, and the elderly are among the people most vulnerable to heat related illnesses.

Ruby Davis, 72, has been living in West Philadelphia for decades, and she can tell from experience how the summers have changed.

“Years ago it wasn’t this bad, but I would say the last 10 years, you can literally stand and feel the difference,” she said. “The heat sometimes looks like it’s coming off of your skin… you can see the heat rising.”

Davis adds that she has noticed more people with symptoms of asthma.

That’s one of the many heath impacts of climate change, because when it gets hotter, there’s more ozone on the ground, and that can either cause breathing problems or make existing problems worse.

In some cases, extreme heat can lead to heat stroke and death.

Davis was one of more than 30 people at a workshop at the West Philadelphia Senior Community Center. The goal of the workshop is to teach seniors how to avoid the health risks of extreme heat and save money on their energy bills.

The advice ranged from simple tips like unplugging any appliances they’re not using and knowing where the city’s cooling centers are, to more advanced ones like using a reflective paint on roofs (called cool roofs) that absorbs less heat than a regular roof.

There will be two more workshops one at the South Philadelphia Free Library in July and one at the McPherson Public Library in August.

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