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As Global Climate Continues to Climb, Seniors Get Increasingly At Risk
PaulineB
April 6, 2024

Over 75 million people in 2019 were adults aged 60 years old and above, comprising one-fifth of the entire US population. As global climate temperatures continue to climb, that same demographic gets increasingly at risk, says the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Hotter temperatures, heightened risks

A hotter global climate impacts environments and societies the world over in many ways as it tips nature’s equilibrium with concerning consequences. 

For one, warming land and sea temperatures have disrupted many nations’ weather systems, producing extreme events with rising frequency and heavier tolls.

In this new “natural order,” older adults are more susceptible to suffering from its health effects for a variety of reasons:

  • Extreme temperature intolerance – The more people age, the lesser their bodies can compensate for the effects of environmental hazards, such as record-breaking and prolonged heat and cold spells
  • Sensitivity and susceptibility – Climate hazards such as heat and air pollution can make older adults more sensitive to their effects, aggravating their pre-existing health conditions and compromised immune systems
  • Limited mobility – Most older adults normally depend on others for assistance with daily life, making them more vulnerable before, during, and after extreme weather events due to their decreased mobility

Climate-related health hazards

Many studies show that many climate-related health hazards pose threats to the well-being of older adults in the United States. Here are some examples:

  • Heat illnesses – People aged 65 and above accounted for more heat-related hospitalizations than any other population demographic between 2001 and 2010 as per the EPA. Heat-related illnesses can occur when a person’s body cannot regulate its own temperature when exposed to high environmental temperatures.

According to the National Centers for Environmental Information or NCEI, 2010 tied with 2005 marked the warmest land and sea temperatures on record at the time.

  • Respiratory diseases – In the US, more than 4 million seniors aged 65 and above suffer from asthma; this age demographic also holds the highest death rate from the said disease.

“Climate change may increase outdoor air pollutants, such as ground-level ozone and particulate matter in wildfire smoke and dust from droughts,” warned the EPA. The length and severity of pollen season also reportedly increased in some states due to rising temperatures and carbon dioxide concentrations.

  • Insect-related illnesses – Weather anomalies due to climate change make some places in the world experience more rainfall than usual, while normally cooler areas experience warmer weather. 

Either conditions, however, foster the spread of mosquitoes and the diseases they carry, such as dengue and malaria. Stagnant floodwater provides ample breeding grounds for mosquitoes, while warmer weathers foster their reproduction and bite rates. 

For older adults with compromised immune systems, the West Nile virus poses greater risks for them. While most people don’t experience any symptoms of the disease, some develop serious complications; some cases even lead to death.

Mitigating health risks for seniors

While tackling climate change requires a consistent global effort, mitigating its related health risks can be observed by seniors, their families, and caregivers.

  • Keep cool – Regulating body temperature requires drinking 8 to 10 glasses of water daily (or as prescribed by your physician) and wearing loose and light-colored clothing during hot months and heat waves. As much as possible, stay in air-conditioned spaces or public cooling centers in your area.
  • Plan ahead – Prepare an emergency supply and medical kit that includes the senior’s medical records. Set up a support network with your family, friends, caretakers, and neighbors. Having emergency numbers on hand and knowing where to go should different emergencies arise may also prove helpful.
  • Check in – Seniors need special monitoring as they have slower metabolisms, lesser vigor, and weaker immune systems than younger adults. It’s best to regularly check in with them, be they a family member, friend, or neighbor, especially during weather events or if they live alone.

While the world still has a lot to go in battling the sources and effects of climate change, mitigating its negative impacts on health, especially of the more vulnerable such as children and seniors, is possible with the right set of informational tools for readiness and application.

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Comments (4)
Commentator
January 1, 2022
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Commentator
January 1, 2022
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Commentator
January 1, 2022
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Commentator
January 1, 2022
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