Climate Change and Older Adults: Planning Ahead to Protect Your Health

The Golden Years are not so shiny in these times of climate crisis. But while older adults are especially vulnerable to some of the worst impacts of climate change, we also are among those who have the knowledge, resources, and motivation to help turn the tide.

How are older adults uniquely vulnerable to climate change?

Climate change impacts all of us by threatening our access to a safe livable world with clean air, water, food, and adequate housing. But as a “vulnerable population,” older adults are particularly prone to  impacts of climate change.   

Among the unique circumstances that may make it more difficult for adults 60 and older to prepare for, respond to, or survive a climate change event:

  • Complex medical conditions impacting physical, sensory, and cognitive abilities to care for oneself and respond to climate disasters
  • Dependence on caregivers and intact medical delivery systems, which can be fragmented during climate disasters
  • Normal aging processes that create less muscle and body tone, which can limit agility and mobility
  • Cognitive impairments ranging from minimal to severe dementias impairing the ability to assess risks, plan responses, and execute protective behaviors
  • Dependence on medications and life-sustaining equipment that may be unavailable or require intact power supplies that may not be readily available at temporary shelters
  • “Social determinants of health” like economic security or substandard housing can exacerbate the impact of climate induced disasters and are considered “threat multipliers”

Clearly, the impact of climate change on older adults is an enormous public health concern.

How are older adults turning the tide on on climate change?

Despite the added climate change burden that many older adults bear, there is another story. As a population, older adults have enormous resources and represent an engaged and energized group of climate activists who are “rolling up their sleeves” to impact the climate crisis.

 

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