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Heat extra risky for people with mental, behavioral health conditions

Doctors are worried that patients with mental and behavioral health conditions will be adversely affected by the ongoing heatwaves of summer 2022. Patients who are especially vulnerable include those with dementia, major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder and other cognitive impairments.

Dr. Michael Malone began to worry when his 90-year-old patient with cognitive impairments hadn’t called for their check-in. The patient lives alone in a trailer and, at a recent home visit, Malone noted the temperature in his kitchen was 98 degrees.

Malone is a medical director for senior services for Advocate Aurora and Aurora at Home in Kenosha. He’s up against a lot during heat waves, he said, because many of his senior patients have dementia, a disease exacerbated in some critical ways by the heat.

“Our job is to take care of people who are vulnerable. We’re worried about our patients,” Malone said. “It makes us have to think outside the box.”

Days of blistering heat can do a number on anyone’s mood, but the consequences are far more severe for people with mental and behavioral health conditions. That’s especially true for people with dementia, depression, generalized anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder and other cognitive impairments, specialists say.

It’s a concern with no end in sight.

June 2022 was the planet’s sixth-hottest month on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a benchmark that conjures worry for geriatric doctors like Malone and clinical psychologist Dr. Shilagh Mirgain, who specializes in health psychology at UW Health.

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