The summer of 2023 has brought extreme heat to millions of Americans, with scorching temperatures spreading from coast to coast in the Southern United States. Cities like Phoenix, Las Vegas, Miami, and Austin have experienced relentless high temperatures, leaving residents describing the situation as “hell on earth.” However, beyond the footage of sunbathers and joggers struggling with the heat, a hidden crisis is emerging: the millions of older adults facing severe risks due to the rising temperatures.
According to Down To Earth, researchers studying the health of older adults and the impacts of climate change have identified two concerning societal trends. Firstly, the population is steadily aging, and secondly, temperatures are on the rise. Older adults face higher risks during heatwaves as they do not cool down as efficiently as younger individuals, making triple-digit temperatures potentially deadly for them. Heat stress can exacerbate underlying health conditions like heart, lung, and kidney diseases, and it may trigger delirium.
Medications commonly used by older adults can also worsen their sensitivity to heat, as they reduce the body’s capacity to sweat or lead to dehydration. Moreover, heat-related emergencies can cause depression and isolation among older adults, and those with cognitive issues or physical disabilities may not fully understand or take necessary precautions to protect themselves.
One reason for the growing vulnerability of older adults to extreme heat is the trend of retirees moving to warmer regions in the South, attracted by the sunny weather, low taxes, and amenities catered to their needs. States like Arizona are expected to see a dramatic increase in their older adult populations in the coming years. Simultaneously, regions historically known for cooler climates, such as New England, the upper Midwest, and the Pacific Northwest, are also witnessing rising heat risks for older adults, who may not be accustomed to such extreme temperatures.
In response to this alarming situation, communities and authorities need to take action to protect older residents. Measures include providing accessible cooling centers, training first responders to understand the specific needs of older adults during heat emergencies, and finding ways to educate new arrivals from cooler regions about the dangers of extreme heat.
Preventing heat-related illnesses and fatalities requires the collective effort of the entire population, not just older adults. High temperatures claim hundreds of lives annually, and heat-related deaths and illnesses are preventable. People of all ages should stay informed and take measures to stay cool, hydrated, and safe during hot weather. This includes seeking air-conditioned environments, drinking enough water, and limiting strenuous outdoor activities during the hottest parts of the day.
Special attention should be given to vulnerable groups, such as children under two years old, people with chronic illnesses, and those aged 65 and older. As climate change continues to drive extreme heat events, it is crucial for society to acknowledge the risks and take proactive steps to protect its most vulnerable members. By understanding the dangers of rising temperatures and implementing appropriate measures, communities can ensure the safety and well-being of all residents during the hot summer months.