Dr. Matthew Mullarky
Dr. Matthew Mullarky. Courtesy of St. Joseph Hospital

Just how dangerous is it for an older person to be left in a closed-in sizzling car during this — or any — heat wave?

Dr. Matthew Mullarky, a 60-year-old emergency room physician at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, will try to publicize that danger by sitting in a hot car with the widows up for about a half-hour Wednesday to show how the heat affects older Southern Californians.

“I don’t know that there’s any statistic because it’s kind of overlooked,” Mullarky said of people leaving the elderly alone in a blistering vehicle.

While most publicity about hot-car danger is directed to warnings over young children and pets, elderly danger is an issue that should get more attention, Mullarky said.

Mullarky plans to sit in a car and have his temperature and vital signs monitored.

“We’ll keep the windows rolled up with no air conditioning and the car not running and try to see what the physical effects are,” he said.

Temperatures in cars can climb as high as 125 degrees, and 80 percent of that is reached in the first 10 minutes, Mullarky said.

“So leaving people in a car for a short period of time can have a physiological effect on them,” he said.

“As our community is aging this is going to be potentially more of a frequent occurrence with caregivers and sometimes with family members taking people to appointments and going shopping, and with the elderly person not quite as mobile, they leave them in the car while they run a couple of errands,” Mullarky said.

The elderly can be more vulnerable to heat stroke because of medications they must take, Mullarky said.

“Simple things like antihistamine dry you out and you don’t sweat as well and you won’t dissipate the heat through evaporation as you normally would,” he said.

Some parents leave children in a car when they are fatigued, experts say.

“Sometimes with the kids, it’s a matter of parents forgetting the child is with them,” Mullarky said. “They’ll be doing a routine thing and the brain tricks them into thinking no one else is in the car with them.”

A child may have more capacity to verbalize their suffering and draw attention to it if left alone in a car in a public place, but some elderly who are mute wouldn’t be able to draw the same help, Mullarky said.

— Staff and wire reports

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