Updated May 31st, 2024 at 12:19 IST

Heatwave 2024: Rising Temperatures Pose Lethal Threat To Aging Population

Amid the aging population of the world rising rapidly, harsh heat waves cause more damage to this demographic that we care to discuss.

Heatwave affects the older population | Image:Freepik
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A deadly heat wave gripped large regions of Asia for weeks in April and May 2024. As temperatures climbed past 43-45 celsius in India, people are passing out, fires have become more common and summer related conditions like sunburn and dehydration have gripped the population. Amid the aging population of the world rising rapidly, harsh heat waves cause more damage to this demographic that we care to discuss.

Are older adults more likely to suffer during heat waves?

Regardless of where or when a heat wave strikes, one pattern has been a constant: Older adults are the most likely to die from extreme heat, and this crisis will worsen in the coming years. According to PTI, two global trends reveal a dire future.

  1. More older adults will be at risk of heat stress First, temperatures are hotter than ever. The nine-year period from 2015 and 2023 had the highest average temperatures since global records began in 1880.
  2. The population is aging worldwide. By 2050, the number of people ages 60 and older will double to nearly 2.1 billion, making up 21 percent of the global population. That proportion is 13 per cent today.
Heatwave | Image: Freepik

These combined forces mean that vulnerable older adults will be exposed to intense heat and the situation will keep getting worse with their increasing numbers. As many as 250 million additional older adults will be exposed to dangerously high temperatures in the near future. And in case of India and the rest of the world, most of these older adults live in lower- and middle-income countries with insufficient services and limited access to electricity, cooling appliances and safe water.

How do heat waves affect older adults?

  • Older citizens of the world themselves need to understand the risks and be prepared because of their special vulnerabilities to heat. High temperatures are oppressive for everyone, but for older adults they can be deadly.
  • Extreme heat worsens common age-related health conditions such as heart, lung and kidney disease and can cause delirium. Older people don’t sweat as much as younger people, which makes it harder for their bodies to cool down when temperatures spike. These problems are intensified by common prescription medications, such as anticholinergics, which further reduce the capacity to sweat.
  • Spending time outdoors in hot humid weather can cause dehydration, a problem worsened by the side effects of prescription medications such as diuretics and beta-blockers. Dehydration can make older adults weak and dizzy, increasing their risk of falls and injury.
  • For older adults with physical health problems, temperatures as low as 26.7 C can pose significant danger. And when humidity is as high as 90 per cent, even 25.6 C can be hazardous to older adults.
  • Night-time heat is especially harmful for older adults whose homes lack air conditioning or who can’t afford to run their air conditioners for long periods.

Heat wave: A global problem?

India is not the only country heating up too much. From as far north as Japan to as far south as the Philippines, the brutal heat has wreaked havoc on everyday life. Students and teachers in Cambodia were sent home from school, as their hand-held fans provided little protection against the stifling heat and humidity in their poorly ventilated classrooms. Farmers in Thailand saw their crops wither and mourned the loss of livestock that perished under the punishing sun.

As per PTI, a week-long heat wave in the southwestern United States in 2023 was described as “hell on earth” in Phoenix, where temperatures hit 43.3 C or higher for 31 straight days. At the same time, Europe saw unprecedented high temperatures that killed hundreds and contributed to devastating wildfires in Greece. So, this is essentially a global problem that needs to be addressed on a bigger level.

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With inputs from PTI

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Published May 31st, 2024 at 12:19 IST