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The Impact of Climate Change on Aging in America

Stria Staff April 22, 2019

Increasing climate-related crises are a growing threat to older Americans — and a growing factor in the longevity market.

Global climate change and aging world population are both rapidly increasing trends. While climate change may not be top-of-mind for most longevity market organizations and businesses on a daily basis, it’s worth understanding its impact.

From the effects of extreme weather on the most vulnerable seniors to physical and health impacts to financial implications, climate issues will play an greater role in our field. We curated several articles to help you explore further.

Highlights & Insights: Curated excerpts from though-provoking articles

The Perils of Climate Change: A Growing Threat to Older People
Aging Today | Kathy Sykes

The Climate and Health Assessment by the U.S. Global Change Research Program found that people differ in their sensitivities to climate change and the very young and very old are particu­larly sensitive. Older people are more sensitive due to lifetime exposures, physiolog­ical changes and limited adaptive capacity. With increasing years, the body’s defense mechanisms decline. Older people also often are living with chronic health conditions and functional limitations that may contribute to frailty and disability. 

And climate change impacts not only physical health. According to the Climate Psychiatry Alli­ance, “Mental health is profoundly impacted by the disruptions associated with climate change.” Numerous studies conducted following disasters found “post-traumatic stress disorder among persons who experience a disaster, with the extent of exposure to a disaster being the most important risk factor for the development of disaster-related PTSD.”

Many of the Dead in Camp Fire Were Disabled, Elderly. Could They Have Been Saved?
Refinery29 | Tony Bizjak, Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks, Phillip Reese, Molly SullivanW

An unsettling picture is emerging in the fire-charred hills of Butte County: Many of the at least 85 people who perished in the raging Camp Fire on Nov. 8 were elderly, infirm or disabled.

They may not have had the physical strength, presence of mind, or perhaps the desire to save themselves—even as tens of thousands of their neighbors in Paradise and other hill towns fled as flames destroyed the world around them…

Some may have been unaware the inferno was headed their way. Others may have hunkered down, hoping the fire would spare them.

Advocates for society’s vulnerable say the emerging portrait of death in Butte County’s Camp Fire is not a surprise.

“Over and over again, it is mostly people with disabilities and aged, they are the ones being left behind,” said Christina Mills, executive director with the California Foundation for Independent Living Centers. They are the people more likely to use walkers and wheelchairs than cell phones and cars.

Retirees Are Fleeing Florida as Climate Change Threatens Their Financial Future
Money | Rebecca Mordechai

Florida, with its plentiful beaches, warm weather, and lack of a state-income tax, is the most popular destination for older adults in the U.S. But some who have lived in the Sunshine State for years are moving in the opposite direction.

As damaging storms and other effects of climate change have hit Florida particularly hard in the past few years, some older adults living there have become concerned about their safety and their ability to enjoy retirement. So they’re fleeing this otherwise balmy state…

“We will miss the warm winters,” says Karen Colton, a 54-year-old resident who lives near Upper Tampa Bay… Colton says she’s done fearing the “killer hurricane and floods” that wreak havoc on her current hometown, and craves peace of mind during her retirement years.

Preparing Older Citizens for Global Climate Change
American Nursing Today | Margarete L. Zalon

Healthcare systems aren’t prepared to address the coming impact of climate change and the needs of older citizens, who are at risk of high rates of chronic disease, limited access to healthcare and medication during a crisis, respiratory distress during temperature increases, poor diet and nutrition, reduced access to water, and higher poverty rates in some settings…

Older adults also face social risks associated with aging, including isolation, lack of family or social support, and poverty. Women living alone are most at risk….

Much of the data and publicity about the risks of climate change and the elderly are focused on mortality, but weather extremes have an impact on older adults’ day-to-day lives. You can help older adults prepare for and manage mobility restrictions and social isolation that may occur. Think about the specific effects that older adults are likely to experience in your own community (winter storms, heat waves, hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, air pollution, wildfires) and consider how they might restrict normal daily activities.

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