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Have a phone? Check in on those feeling the heat the most: Senior citizens.

Thursday was Day Five of the current heat wave and put the 28th day at or above 90 degrees this year in the books.

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 9, 2010

Istill have a hard time believing it, but my 87-year-old neighbor, Ruth, insists that she is not repulsed by our existence.

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Every day (and many times, twice a day), she tells me how grateful she is to look past her porch at the carnival that is my household.

Massive garden trenches dug by tiny bulldozers, hanging ferns bristling with foam rockets, the summertime screech of squirt gun battles -- she doesn't hate this?

"I love it," she snaps at me. "It makes me feel like I'm part of the world. I don't want to be locked away somewhere, playing cards with people my own age. Having to listen to their health problems."

Ruth bought her Northeast Washington home more than 30 years ago, and she's going to stay in it, thank you very much.

It's called aging in place. And there are groups, networks and even architectural movements that try to help our nation's elderly fulfill a largely universal wish: to stay in their own homes as they grow old.

But this is the kind of extreme weather week when the vulnerability of these folks blisters to the surface.

The heat-related deaths we hear about each year are usually our grandmas and grandpas, the folks who can't jump in a pool or run through the sprinkler.

Our cities open cooling centers and fire hydrants to help everyone out, but little good that does for someone with a walker.

"I just came outside -- it's about as far as I can go," said Patricia Chase, 70, who made it out of her Northeast rowhouse to escape the stifling heat and using a walker shuffled to the edge of her yard, where a car registered 103 degrees. Her air conditioner had battled valiantly, but then the power went out.

Over the past few days, 5,800 Pepco customers across the region sweltered and roasted while workers who were just as miserable worked to get their power restored, sometimes within hours. A power outage on Bloomingdale hit a few blocks where lots of seniors live. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) wrangled a $39-a-night deal at a Marriott for the seniors who were sweltering for hours on end.

Chase desperately needed the air back on. "You name it, I got it when it comes to health problems. The high blood pressure. The asthma," she said, and then went on to name a dozen more things neither of us can spell.

CONTINUED     1           >

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