“It’s always dangerous to leave a child in a parked car, even for a few minutes,” said Dr. Martin Finkel, co-director of the Child Abuse Research and Education Services (CARES) Institute at UMDNJ-SOM. “Already this year, 13 children have died in this country when left behind in a parked car. Seven of those tragedies happened on days when the outside temperature was less than 90 degrees, including one instance when it was just 73 degrees.”
A parked car’s interior temperature can increase by 19 degrees after just 10 minutes and, within 20 minutes, will soar by nearly 30 degrees, even when the windows are “cracked.”
Dr. Finkel cautioned that high temperatures can also lead to brain or internal organ damage in young children. “If you accidently leave a child in a hot, parked car and return to find that child asleep, don’t assume he or she is taking a nap. You could be seeing signs of heat exhaustion or serious heat injury. Remove the child from the car immediately and call 911 if the child is unresponsive.”
According to Dr. Thomas Cavalieri, founder of the New Jersey Institute for Successful Aging and the dean of UMDNJ-SOM, elderly individuals may be even more susceptible to the dangers of summer weather.
“Forty percent of all heat-related deaths occur in people aged 65 or older,” Dr. Cavalieri noted. “Many older individuals have medical conditions that increase the dangers of hot weather. Their bodies are slower to adjust to temperature changes and they may have a diminished thirst reflex that keeps them from drinking adequate amounts of liquid. Some individuals may have safety and financial concerns that keep them behind locked doors and windows without fans or air conditioners.”
On warm, summer days, Dr. Cavalieri recommends checking regularly on older friends, neighbors and relatives, and being alert for signs – such as dizziness, confusion and nausea – that indicate the need for medical intervention.
Dr. Finkel and Dr. Cavalieri offered these hot-weather safety tips:
- Never leave children unattended in a parked vehicle or near a pool or body of water for any amount of time.
- Remember that children will dehydrate faster than adults. Encourage them to drink plenty of water during hot weather. Grape or apple juice diluted with water is a good alternative to sports drinks.
- Check on elderly relatives and neighbors twice daily and make sure they are appropriately dressed for hot weather.
- Encourage older individuals to drink non-caffeine fluids and make sure these liquids are within easy reach of those who have difficulty walking.
- If safety or finances keep older individuals behind closed doors without air conditioning or fans, offer to stay with them while windows are open or to take them to an air-conditioned environment.
- Know the warning signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Heat exhaustion causes heavy perspiration, dizziness, weakness and nausea. Treat it with rest, drinks of cool water every 10 – 15 minutes and apply cool, wet cloths directly to the skin. Seek immediate medical help if symptoms don’t improve quickly or suddenly worsen. Heat stroke causes all the symptoms of heat exhaustion, without the perspiration. Other symptoms include fainting, staggering or acting in a strange or confused manner. Heat stroke is a life threatening condition. If you suspect heat stroke, call 911 or emergency services for immediate help.
The UMDNJ-School of Osteopathic Medicine is dedicated to providing excellence in medical education, research and health care for New Jersey and the nation. Working in cooperation with Kennedy University Hospital, its principal affiliate, the UMDNJ-School of Osteopathic Medicine places an emphasis on primary health care and community health services that reflect its osteopathic philosophy, with centers of excellence that demonstrate its commitment to developing clinically skillful, compassionate and culturally competent physicians from diverse backgrounds, who are prepared to become leaders in their communities.
The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) is the nation’s largest free-standing public health sciences university with more than 6,000 students attending the state’s three medical schools, its only dental school, a graduate school of biomedical sciences, a school of health related professions, a school of nursing and its only school of public health on five campuses. Annually, there are more than two million patient visits at UMDNJ facilities and faculty practices at campuses in Newark, New Brunswick/Piscataway, Scotch Plains, Camden and Stratford. UMDNJ operates University Hospital, a Level I Trauma Center in Newark, and University Behavioral HealthCare, which provides a continuum of healthcare services with multiple locations throughout the state.
Name: Jerry Carey