Shelter domes and tree-lined streets 'needed to protect elderly' from climate change

Researchers call for urgent action to reduce negative impact of extreme weather on older people's health and well-being

Researchers propose a more holistic approach to protecting older adults' health and well-being in a changing climate. Getty Images
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Urgent intervention is required to protect older people from the effects of climate change, a study has revealed.

The report titled Healthy Ageing in a Changing Climate emphasises the significant challenges faced by older people who are exposed to extreme weather events caused by climate change.

Critical interventions in urban environments, in particular, are essential to diminish the negative impact of climate change on their health and well-being.

“Extreme weather is compromising the health and well-being of our ageing populations,” Prof Ryan Woolrych, director of the Urban Institute and the study's lead, told The National.

“Evidence and data across all recent extreme weather events in the UK indicate older people are more likely to die and be displaced as a result of extreme weather events which will become more frequent”.

The research explored the effects of extreme weather events, including heatwaves, floods and severe storms, on older people.

It underscored the direct and indirect effects of climate change on health and well-being, such as heatwaves causing excess mortality due to older people's reduced ability to regulate body temperature, and extreme weather affecting mobility and access to essential services.

The study, conducted by the Urban Institute at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh and the Stockholm Environment Institute at the University of York, presents actionable recommendations.

These include building climate-resilient housing, designing climate-adaptive outdoor spaces with shaded bus stops and tree-lined streets, and constructing shelter domes in climate hotspots to protect seniors while allowing for social interaction.

It also calls for recognising climate change as an immediate public health issue and integrating health and well-being services within community hubs to support those affected by extreme weather. In addition, it advocates empowering older people towards climate action.

Prof Woolrych stressed the profound effect of climate change on the ageing population, who are most at risk from extreme weather.

He emphasised the need for creative solutions to support older people before, during, and after such events.

“Failing to act now risks further negative impacts on older people including increased mortality,” he said.

“What's important here is building on the physical, social and community assets we already have within communities to support older people to plan for and recover from extreme weather”.

“More work is needed to ensure older people can make informed decisions, have the freedom, capacity and resources to make changes to their home, and are supported with retrofitted and new build housing that is safe, warm and a place to grow old”.

The UK has more than 11 million residents aged 65 and over (19 per cent of the population), and it is expected that this demographic will grow to 13 million (22 per cent) by 2030.

The study notes the simultaneous increase in extreme weather severity and frequency due to climate change.

Gary Haq, a senior researcher from the Stockholm Environment Institute, highlighted the need for a holistic approach to address the health needs of an ageing society amid more frequent and severe weather events.

He pointed out the particular vulnerability of older people, especially those in high-risk areas without adequate resources and support systems.

“Our society is getting older, and this brings particular health needs,” Dr Haq said.

“It’s crucial to understand that more frequent and severe extreme weather events will harm the health and well-being of older individuals, especially those in vulnerable areas or lacking adequate financial resources and support systems to cope with or reduce the impact of such extreme weather.

“Our research has found that we need to take a more holistic approach if we are to meet the needs of an ageing population in a changing climate, and protect their quality of life.”

Updated: November 28, 2023, 1:52 PM