Climate change can potentially disproportionately affect the most vulnerable populations including seniors. This group may be one of the most affected because of; decreased mobility, physiological changes, and access to resources. These parameters tend to limit adaptability. The challenges seniors will face adapting to climate change could have significant implications for the individual’s health and the population as a whole.
Scientific findings indicate that the increase in greenhouse gases emitted to the atmosphere over the past 250 years have been the major contributor to climate change. This has been brought about by the use of fossil fuels, agricultural practices, and changes in land. As these emissions have increased, one sees the continued rise of Global mean surface temperatures. Left unabated, climate change will have serious impacts on the environment and on human health, political stability, and food production.
Seniors are more vulnerable to:
- • Environmental risks
- • Extreme weather events
- • Exacerbated vector-borne diseases
- • Compromised agriculture,
- • Reduced availability of fresh water
- • Decreased habitability of population centers
- • Temperature extremes
Individual physiological and social factors associated with aging may be the greatest negative impact to the group as a whole. As opposed to just the changes in climate. Using public health terminology, physiological and social susceptibility may have a greater impact than the dose. Those with a pre-exposure health status that limits mobility and those on medications that increase susceptibility to climate related parameters are thus the most likely to be impacted. Accordingly the oldest are the most likely to suffer impacts.
The ability of individuals to avoid the negative impacts of climate change may be limited by socioeconomic disadvantages.
Learn More about Climate ChangeThe Tipping Point: The Year 2030 Kindle Edition
by Marvin Berenson
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Selected Examples of How Climate Change May Affect Seniors
Understanding the specific ways that climate change affects older people may lead to reduced severity.
The impacts of exposure to heat are variable. The impact depends on how well housing structures and communities have accommodated to hot climate conditions over time. Historically impacts have been seen where extreme heat is unusual and unexpected. In these situations, older people and young children were the most likely to suffer health issues. Thus community and individual adaptation can be an effective mitigation strategy (air conditioning and/or community cooling centers) during severe heat waves. Individual health factors also interact with exposure to heat. Pre-existing chronic medical conditions (i.e. cardiovascular disease, obesity) make susceptibility to heat worse. These conditions when coupled with social isolation and limited income can create a lethal situation. Social setting and income help determine ones capacity to adapt.
Climate change will bring about more frequent and severe hurricanes. A significant percent of elders live in U.S. areas that are likely to see a hurricane. These areas also tend to have a significant number of long-term care facilities. These facilities pose an issue when area evacuations are required. Thus government and care providers must predefine approaches to evacuating frail and vulnerable older people. Older people may consider the burden of evacuation, relocation and leaving property unattended to be too great. Thus they may tend to stay in place until it is too late for a safe evacuation.
Ambient air pollution, especially ozone and fine particulates, effects occur more frequently among older people, particularly those with chronic illness such as heart disease, lung disease, or diabetes.