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Nursing faculty, students remind elders to stay cool

Posted: Tuesday, June 26, 2012 · Volume: XLV · Issue: 13

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Anthia Murray, RN, M.P.H., M.S.N., nursing student Katrina Theis and Kelly Dunn, RN, Ph.D., PHCNS-BC, show some of the materials that will be handed out by School of Nursing faculty members and students this summer to prevent heat exhaustion.
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Anthia Murray, RN, M.P.H., M.S.N., nursing student Katrina Theis and Kelly Dunn, RN, Ph.D., PHCNS-BC, show some of the materials that will be handed out by School of Nursing faculty members and students this summer to prevent heat exhaustion.clear graphic

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By Rosanne Fohn

As temperatures rise so does the risk of heat exhaustion, especially for people who are older, chronically ill, disabled or homebound.

“As hot as it gets in San Antonio, many people don’t realize that heat exhaustion can occur when the temperature is only 85 degrees,” said Anthia Murray, M.P.H., M.S.N., RN, clinical professor in the Department of Family and Community Health Systems.

She and Associate Professor Kelly Dunn, RN, Ph.D., PHCNS-BC, are leading nursing students in the School of Nursing’s Population Health class this summer. They and 74 students will be collaborating with several community organizations to educate vulnerable populations to avoid heat exhaustion. The students will be making presentations at senior citizen centers throughout the city and surrounding areas.

A press conference attended by District 120 State Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon was held June 21 at the Claude Black Senior Center to announce the “Do You Have a Cool Neighbor?” program. The program emphasizes a community approach to looking after older neighbors or shut-ins to make sure they stay cool.

Preventing deaths with neighbors helping neighbors
“This all started in 2009 when two elderly sisters died because they didn’t turn on their air conditioners when it got too hot,” said Dr. Dunn, the first Health Science Center faculty member to become involved with the community effort. “They had the money to pay their bills but they didn’t do it, maybe out of a sense of frugality. Their neighbors were not close to them and didn’t check on them. And sometimes people in the early stages of dementia just don’t realize that they are getting overheated.”

“That’s why we’re really focusing on this population and on neighbors to get the community involved in checking on each other,” added Katrina Theis, a fourth-semester nursing student in the course, which is part of the School of Nursing’s accelerated bachelor’s degree program.

Theis is a nontraditional student with a degree in biology who had wanted to become a nurse years go. When she initially went back to school, both of her parents developed serious health problems, causing her to put her plans on hold for more than a decade while she cared for them through the end of life. Now Theis is refocusing on her education through the 15-month accelerated degree program for students with a degree in another field.

“When I was caring for my parents I felt like I was a nurse, but once I entered nursing school this time I learned there is a great deal more to the title than the caregiving aspect,” Theis said. “Now my goal is to become a competent nurse and to do this in honor of my mother.”

Nursing students to give presentations
During the course, the nursing students will prepare lesson plans for their presentations that will include a pre-test and follow up to see how much has been learned. They will distribute educational information about the symptoms of heat exhaustion and how to avoid it, as well as large, easy-to-read thermometers with 85 degrees clearly marked for easy reference.

“We are encouraging senior citizens to turn on their air conditioners when it gets to 85 degrees. Or they can leave the house and go somewhere cool, such as the public library, a senior center, the mall or other comfortable place,” Dr. Dunn said.


Pictured at the press conference that promoted awareness of heat exhaustion are (left to right) nursing students Christina Ledder and Brianna Walraffer; Anthia Murray, RN, M.P.H., M.S.N., clinical professor; Dean J. Danos, executive director of the Alamo Area Council of Governments; Kelly Dunn, RN, Ph.D., PHCNS-BC, associate professor; and nursing students Binoy Joseph and Katrina Theis.
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Pictured at the press conference that promoted awareness of heat exhaustion are (left to right) nursing students Christina Ledder and Brianna Walraffer; Anthia Murray, RN, M.P.H., M.S.N., clinical professor; Dean J. Danos, executive director of the Alamo Area Council of Governments; Kelly Dunn, RN, Ph.D., PHCNS-BC, associate professor; and nursing students Binoy Joseph and Katrina Theis. clear graphic

 

“And we are learning some things from the seniors to pass along about keeping cool, like keeping the blinds closed during the heat of the day, showering or using a wet washcloth to keep cool,” said Dr. Dunn.

Senior citizen population growing
“We are really happy that our students have the opportunity to work with the older community,” Dr. Dunn said. “With the aging of Baby Boomers, they are the becoming largest population group. Our students need more opportunities to work with seniors to develop competencies.”

Reaching out to the community
Community partners in the “Do You Have a Cool Neighbor?” program include the Alamo Service Connection, Alamo Area Council of Governments, the Bexar Area Agency on Aging, the city of San Antonio, Catholic Charities, The Salvation Army and others.

 
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