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Seniors dying at home with air conditioners off - why don't they turn them on?

17 Comments
By Michael Hoffman

A husband and wife were found dead in their home – he in his 90s, she in her 80s; he in the living room, she in the kitchen. Cause of death: heatstroke. It was a sweltering August day in 2020. They lived in Adachi Ward, Tokyo. An air conditioner would have seen them through the summer. They didn’t have an air conditioner.

Many elderly people don’t, says Shukan Post (July 8-15). Or if they do, they don’t turn it on. “Poison air,” they complain. Expensive too, as energy costs soar, global warming menaces and warnings sound with increasing urgency against fossil fuels. Air conditioners, a big part of that problem, remain the solution to another: namely, the fact that the body can tolerate only so much heat.

There’s a happy medium, somewhere, between extreme abstinence and extreme indulgence. We’d better find it. A long hot summer looms. A worst-case scenario played out in the summer of 2018: 1,000-odd deaths from heatstroke and 90,000 people rushed to hospital. A more typical season sees 60,000 hospitalized –  half aged 65 or over.

July 2018. A man in his 80s living alone in Tokyo failed to open the door one morning when his son came to visit. He was dead. The air conditioner wasn’t working. The day before, a repairman had come. “I hate air conditioners,” said the old man. The repairman explained that he’d been sent by the man’s son. He was turned away all the same.

Another episode involving out-of-order air conditioning occurred in a Gifu Prefecture hospital in August 2018. Five patients in their 80s died, “one after another,” says Shukan Post. The hospital director has been charged with professional negligence.

It is of course true that humankind managed for millennia without air conditioners. The inference is that air conditioning is a luxury rather than a necessity. It’s a hasty conclusion. Our ancestors didn’t live as many of us live now – in asphalt-and-concrete heat-trapping urban jungles, far removed from the cooling effects of natural surroundings. In the pre-industrial past at least nights were cool. They no longer are.

How bad will this summer be? The Japan Meteorological Agency speaks darkly of a high-pressure belt over the Pacific, another over Tibet, and hot humid air wafting up from the south. In layman’s terms: heat; brace for it. And for power shortages too, warns the government, urging households and businesses to reduce energy use in view of the low yen, the temporary closing of aging thermal power plants and various other factors beyond our control.

Such factors are proliferating. Shukan Post mentions one: a shortage of air conditioner parts, due to factory shutdowns in Shanghai during the prolonged lockdown this spring over Covid-19 fears. “We never imagined such confusion could exist,” Komei Denki president Toru Takano told NHK. It can and does. We’re left with this: think twice before turning the air conditioner on – and think twice before turning it off.

© Japan Today

©2022 GPlusMedia Inc.

17 Comments
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Because of lack of money. There's a reason every shopping mall here is full of old men shuffling around buying nothing or sitting on benches; free A/C!

16 ( +17 / -1 )

Pensioners and lack of money perhaps?

12 ( +13 / -1 )

Rising prices and lower pensions

9 ( +10 / -1 )

It is described that a decrease in the capacity to make proper judgment is part of the decline that comes with age, this means some of the risks are no longer properly taken into account and bad decisions (like refusing to use the air conditioning to save a few yen) happens.

Families should be aware of this and make an effort to be sure the AC is working properly and their family members feel comfortable by using it. It may be feel like a lot of unnecessary trouble when people are living in different places, but it can prevent a tragedy.

5 ( +8 / -3 )

@Steve

I think we may be up to something here...

4 ( +5 / -1 )

If they would just run their AC at a higher temp, but below the threshold for heatstroke, it won't hurt increase their utility bill that much. And, it would save their lives. 28deg will keep them from dying, even if it's not as comfy as 22-25deg. Also, dehumidify mode helps drastically, while using less power than cool mode, typically.

I'll bet they think nothing of running their TV's all day long, though. Ironically, that only adds to the heat, especially if they have older plasma or even CRT type, which some older folks may still be using.

3 ( +9 / -6 )

No money. Better building regulation and city planning would mitigate some of the need for air on. Planting tress instead of cutting them down would be an enormous help in cities, as would having smaller windows,, insulating homes, double glaze windows etc.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

“I hate air conditioners,” said the old man. 

My wife also hates them. But, even she knows enough to use them to prevent heatstroke. (Although, I think having Golden Retrievers has been an incentive for her, as they start panting and showing great discomfort above a certain temp.)

Personally, I love air conditioners, and think they are one of mankind's greatest inventions. The LDK aircon remains on all day, and the BR aircon all night. And, if I need to use another room, click, on it goes.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

It isn’t usually about money. A lot of Japanese people think they will make you sick, especially if you run it at night.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

The idea that a clean and properly functioning air conditioner is going to make you sick is nonsense - all it does is cool the air and removes a bit of moisture - with the high humidity in Japan in summer that's not usually such a bad thing. Some of the newer designs have a built-in humidifier function to replace some of the moisture removed during the air cooling process. You can always buy a separate humidifier. Beyond that, just make sure it is kept clean.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

All irrelevant to the initial comment.

If your initial comment was that there was nothing new it is completely relevant to show how your quoted text is a new argument, it therefore proves the criticism empty.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

If you read the article, you would see this is one of the main points:

The article puts examples of how this was not done and talks about finding a balance, which is quite different. Exactly where in the article is it discussed that this comes from a well known problem with intellectual abilities that come with age? or that taking this into account can help making the bothersome task of convincing people easier to accept?

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Expensive too, as energy costs soar, global warming menaces and warnings sound with increasing urgency against fossil fuels. 

Air conditioners for the elderly should be covered by health insurance.

Families should be aware of this and make an effort to be sure the AC is working properly and their family members feel comfortable by using it. It may be feel like a lot of unnecessary trouble when people are living in different places, but it can prevent a tragedy.

If you read the article, you would see this is one of the main points:

The day before, a repairman had come. “I hate air conditioners,” said the old man. The repairman explained that he’d been sent by the man’s son. He was turned away all the same.

-2 ( +4 / -6 )

How bad will this summer be? The Japan Meteorological Agency speaks darkly of a high-pressure belt over the Pacific, another over Tibet, and hot humid air wafting up from the south. In layman’s terms: heat; brace for it.

We had record heat the end of June, but recently have had relatively cool temps.

But will stay on alert and brace for it!

The article puts examples of how this was not done and talks about finding a balance, which is quite different. Exactly where in the article is it discussed that this comes from a well known problem with intellectual abilities that come with age? or that taking this into account can help making the bothersome task of convincing people easier to accept?¥

All irrelevant to the initial comment.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

The sad irony is that, the more we run air conditioners, the hotter it's going to get. Anyone see a death spiral here?

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

I love air cons. We run them at 22-23 all summer 24x7 and that keeps life good.

-4 ( +2 / -6 )

Yes, why don’t they just turn them on and prefer to die in overheated homes, and why do people in the Sahel zone don’t eat three delicious meals a day and prefer to die from starvation. So many similar questions and no one seems to have the obvious answer.

-6 ( +1 / -7 )

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