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Seniors especially vulnerable during heat wave

The Grapevine Center on North Elm Street in Butler is serving as a cooling shelter during the heat wave. William Pitts/Butler Eagle

Temperatures are soaring in Butler County and across Western Pennsylvania this week, and they aren’t expected to settle down for quite a while. The first real heat wave began Monday, June 17, with temperatures reaching as high as 90 degrees in Butler County before a severe thunderstorm broke out.

Particularly vulnerable are the region’s older adults, who typically are more prone to heat-related illnesses and health risks during heat waves.

For the elderly, whose bodies can no longer regulate heat as well as they used to, keeping and staying cool is priority No. 1.

“The most important thing to do right off the bat would be to make sure that they’re hydrated, especially if there are medications that could cause dehydration,” said Brittany Buzzelli of the Butler County Area Agency on Aging. “Medication side effects can impact them and cause dehydration, which can then cause dizziness and falling, and a host of things that can contribute to injuries.”

If staying cool at home isn’t an option, then there are other places to seek relief. The Grapevine Center, a nonprofit recovery center located on Elm Street in Butler, has offered its services as a cooling shelter for anyone who needs it during the heat wave.

Although the Grapevine Center routinely serves as a warming shelter during the winter, Grapevine executive director Bette Peoples said this is the first time the center has had to make itself a cooling shelter.

“We decided (Monday) that we wanted to stay open longer, ’til at least 8 p.m., for as long as the temperature is in the 90s, or close to 100,” Peoples said. “Everyone is welcome. They can just walk in.

“It’s kind of scary between the storms and the hot weather,” Peoples said. “We just want people to stay safe.”

Butler County’s senior centers will remain open at their usual hours, but Buzzelli clarified that these are not official cooling shelters because they do not stay open 24 hours a day. In fact, most of them are open for only a few hours a week, and some are open only one day per week.

“They're places where anyone 60 or older can come for activities, socialization and a meal,” Buzzelli said. “They are open from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in most cases.”

There are two official senior centers located in Butler, along with one in Cranberry Township, one in Evans City, one in Slippery Rock, one in Chicora and one in Winfield Township.

“I’d say that if someone is in need, to head to the Grapevine (Center), because you can stay there the entire day,” Buzzelli said.

The Butler County Area Agency on Aging may be able to provide further assistance for seniors who are unable to leave their homes to get to the cooling shelter at Grapevine or any other cooling shelter further afield.

“If they're a senior over 60, and they're unable to get out of their home and they are suffering from something heat-related, like their power or their air conditioning goes out … they should call our office because we may be able to assist in getting them fans or anything of that sort,” Buzzelli said.

The Grapevine Center on North Elm Street in Butler is serving as a cooling shelter during the heat wave. William Pitts/Butler Eagle

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