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Climate change exposes older adults to more of these health hazards—here’s how to prepare
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Climate change exposes older adults to more of these health hazards—here’s how to prepare

Climate change exposes older adults to more of these health hazards—here's how to prepare


With Over one-third of California long-term care communities located in areas that are at high risk for fire, it would be difficult to find someone more on edge than a long-term-care facility operator during California’s fire season. 

Unless you are a Florida care manager for older adults during hurricane season.

While Liz Barlowe of Barlowe & Associates in Seminole, Fla., and her clients have evaded severe storms, she creates a disaster plan with her clients annually. This could include a transfer to a safe location for them to stay with access medical attention and a sufficient supply of food or the presence a caregiver who can help them weather the storm in their home. 

The U.N.’s recent Climate Change Conference confirmed what Barlowe and others already know: The recent U.N. Climate Change Conference confirmed what people such as Barlowe already know. Climate changePublic safety and health are being impacted by increasingly severe weather events.

These impacts are especially harmful to older adults. While global leaders are focused on limiting warming, all of us can contribute to minimizing the health risks. It is possible to stay safe by being aware of the following five dangers and taking simple precautions.

1. Greater exposure to extreme events

Many older Americans live near areas that are most affected by heat waves, hurricanes and forest fires. Nearly 20% of the population lives in a county that has been hit by a tropical storm or hurricane in the last decade. People with mobility problems or dementia are among those most at risk during a weather event.

In the days and week that follow, an inability to access medical care can increase the risk of all older adults, particularly those with chronic health conditions.

Hurricane Katrina, in which 60% of flood-related deaths were older adults, hit close to home for Michael Smyer, professor at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa., and founder of Growing Greener, an organization that encourages older adults and others to work toward climate change. Smyer, who was born in New Orleans, realized the risks for all older adults, as well as those living in long-term care facilities. 

“If we think about the people who were already at risk because of chronic illness before the storm in New Orleans, then you put them at risk when a facility is flooded and power is out, they are at very highly elevated risk for adverse outcomes,” Smyer said.

Similar: How climate change could affect your retirement plans

For those who are living in retirement, it is important to plan for extreme weather. This includes preparing for extreme weather events. “go bag”You will need to have the following items: prescription medication, clothing change, family communication plan, and weather information. emergency alert notifications.

2. A rise in heat-related diseases

Heat is the leading reason for heat stroke Weather-related deaths in the U.S., and heat waves are only expected to increase in frequency, severity and duration.

These deaths can be avoided by making sure that heatwave-prone individuals are kept cool in an air-conditioned environment. This means being vigilant as a community, and intervening when necessary for older adults. 

“It is a population that we need to make sure is very well connected to family or other social networks that will look out for them during these events,” said Ruth McDermott-Levy, a professor at Villanova University and expert in environmental health and public health nursing.

An older adult’s body does not sense heat as readily as a younger adult due to thermoregulation, explained McDermott-Levy. This is why an older adult might be wearing a thick wool sweater when the home temperature is 80 degrees. The person’s body doesn’t have the capacity to sense the heat even though they are experiencing the heat.

Also, see: 6 ways to incorporate climate change into retirement planning

They may not be able to respond to heat as quickly as someone younger, especially if it is extremely hot. Chronic health conditions and medications can also increase the likelihood of adverse heat reactions.

3. More vector-borne illnesses

Many older adults lead active and social lives. Retirement means fewer commitments and more opportunities to enjoy outdoor activities such as fishing, hiking, or golfing. These are the people most at risk of being infected by ticks or mosquitoes like Lyme disease, West Nile virus, and Zika virus.

Vectors, organisms capable of spreading infection from one host to the next, thrive in humid, warm environments. The increased risk of exposure to vectors is due to a lengthening of warm-weather seasons and an increase in the insects’ geographic range.

It is important to keep active even as we age. However, it is important to take precautions against these tiny, dangerous pests.

This includes wearing long sleeves, pants and a hat, as well as applying insect repellent with 20 to 30% DEET before going out. 

Continue reading: How climate change is ruining retirement in America

4. An escalation in waterborne illnesses

As the world heats, heavy downpours increase and flooding increases. Fresh produce is more at risk from contamination by wild animal feces and livestock. Additionally, parasites such as Giardia and Cryptosporidium can cause illness in the population by way of drinking or recreational water.

Waterborne diseases are more common in older adults, who have an immune response that is less powerful than the general population. The resulting gastrointestinal symptoms may cause a drop in electrolytes. Be aware that this may present as confusion or dementia, but is temporary until the person’s fluids have been replenished.

5. An increase in respiratory distress

Warmer temperatures can lead to longer pollen seasons which can worsen allergies.


Climate change has two effects on respiratory health. The first is that it can exacerbate pre-existing illnesses. One of the most common conditions is chronic obstructive and pulmonary disease (COPD), a condition that disproportionately affects older adults. 

The danger comes with rising temperatures which increase ground-level ozone, causing inflammation and tissue damage in lungs. Particulates that are emitted during intense wildfire seasons pose another danger. This pollution doesn’t just impact older adults who live near the wildfires; the particulates can travel thousands of miles from the source.

Additionally, longer pollen season lengthening is a result of warmer temperatures. Between 1995 and 2015, the ragweed pollen season expanded between 6 and 21 days in various locations around the U.S. Also, the intensity of the pollen has increased. Each plant is producing more allergens and pollen.

This increased exposure may result in an increase in asthma and allergies, conditions that can develop at any age. Like other illnesses, older adults have a lower immune response to combating respiratory disease.  

Also, see:Young people blame climate changes for their low 401(k), balances

You can protect yourself or a loved one from harmful levels air pollution and allergens by using the U.S. Air Quality Index (AQI).. It uses a simple color-coded method to report the air quality of your area. If the air quality is poor, you should limit your outdoor activities.

What can older adults do to protect their health?

Not only is it not the best way to handle these new health issues, but so is stomping your feet in despair. It’s not the case. McDermott Levy said that proactive steps such as staying active, eating a healthy diet, and maintaining social networks are crucial. 

“All of those things that you were taught all along 一 it helps make you more resilient,” she said.

Many older adults are also active in seeking out solutions to climate change. “Older adults are not only potential victims of climate change but also potential leaders of climate action,” Smyer said. 

Importantly, they can help break what Smyer calls the “climate silence habit,” shying away from discussing climate change with family and friends.

Check out: Greta Thunberg is a BBC series

Grandparents often have a special bond to their grandkids, who are often concerned about global warming. Smyer stated that initiating an intergenerational conversation can help break the silence.

Jenny Wisniewski is a freelance writer based in Milwaukee. She writes about travel, elder care, and the environment. You can find more of her work at and on LinkedIn

This article has been reprinted with permission from, © 2022 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.

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