Older people more vulnerable to climate change

We have little understanding, as yet, of how climate change and an ageing demographic interact; but there is increasing evidence that vulnerable older people make up the bulk of the fatalities from flooding, heatwaves, cold snaps, air pollution and storms.

Threats include air, water, and food pollutants and long-term exposure to them; and sudden natural or man-made shocks like heatwaves ,floods, storms. Of some 14,800 deaths caused in France by the 2003 heatwave, 70% were people over the age of 75. It’s not just the events, but the disruption in other services that affect the lives of older people disproportionately.

Older people are a diverse group and have a wide range of abilities and needs. Some may suffer from ill health, low income, isolation, poor care or support networks; some may have lost a spouse or loved ones, compounding biological factors like age-related and/or chronic disease, reduced mobility and strength, and loss of sight and/or hearing. Environmental threats and their knock-on effects and disruptions will have different consequences for how people are, or are not, able to cope.

A recent report called for better engagement of older people with climate change issues, enabling them to contribute by lowering their impact, and for infrastructure to facilitate this engagement, like more efficient homes, and ways for their knowledge of the local environment to be incorporated, e.g. through volunteer opportunities. They’ll also need better access to the services they’ll need to remain resilient during crises.