Being an older adult in times of climate change

Being an older adult in a world warming due to climate change is riskier: heat-related deaths are on the rise

Heat waves killed more than 150.000 people between 1990 and 2019, according to the first global map linking deaths and high temperatures. Three other new articles also highlight the greater vulnerability of older people and women and that the summer of 2023 was the warmest in 2.000 years.

Heat waves are one of the most visible impacts of climate change. These periods (always longer than three days) in which the maximum and minimum temperatures exceed normal climatic values ​​for this time of year will have a negative impact on health.

A team from Monash University in Australia has created the first global map of heat-related mortality over three decades, from 1990 to 2019. Experts found that these cycles are to blame for more than 153.000 additional deaths, almost half of which occurred in Asia.

Compared with the period 1850-1990, global surface temperatures increased by 1,14°C in 2013-2022 and are expected to increase by 0,41-3,41°C in 2081-2100. Furthermore, with the increasing impact of climate change, heat waves are observed to increase not only in frequency but also in intensity and duration.

The study, published in the journal PLOS Medicine and led by Professor Yuming Guo, analyzed daily temperature and mortality data from 750 locations in 43 countries or regions. As a result, from 1990 to 2019, heat waves increased the number of deaths by 236 per 10 million people during each warm season. The areas with the highest number of heat-related deaths are in southern and eastern Europe, in areas with polar and alpine climates and where people have high incomes.

"In the world there are more and more heat waves with longer periods and greater intensity. However, we still do not have statistics on how many deaths they cause."explains Guo, who emphasizes: "Knowing the number is crucial for public health management and policy development, resource allocation, population awareness, promotion of health equity, and advancement of scientific research."He adds.

"Additionally, this knowledge can increase the resilience of communities to rising global temperatures by guiding urban planning, shaping climate change adaptation strategies, and promoting protective behaviors and innovation. This comprehensive approach can significantly reduce the health impacts of extreme heat and save lives", he added.

Data show that heat waves increase the risk of death from heat overload and multiple organ dysfunction, as well as from exhaustion, seizures and heat stroke. Similarly, heat stress can worsen preexisting chronic diseases and cause premature death, mental disorders, and other consequences.

"THEHeat waves are associated with a significant mortality burden that has varied spatiotemporally across the planet over the past 30 years. Local adaptation and risk management plans must exist at all levels of governmentGuo emphasized.

The risk of older adults in the face of climate change

Another study, published this week in the journal Nature Communications., found that by 2050, up to 246 million older people worldwide will face extreme and dangerous heat.

The results of this work, in which scientists from Austria, Italy and the United States participated, can contribute to regional thermal risk assessment, planning for adaptation to climate change and making decisions in a public arena.

The authors quantitatively determined the chronic effect of elevated average temperatures, as well as the frequency and intensity of acute exposure to extremely high temperatures in various age groups worldwide.
They found that by 2050, more than 23% of the world's population aged 69 and older will live in climates with extreme temperatures above the critical threshold of 37,5°C (99,5°F), up from 14% in 2020.

The crisis is expected to be most severe in Asia and Africa, which may also have the lowest adaptive capacity.
"Areas with aging populations and increasing heat exposure are likely to face considerable demands on social and health services, requiring novel policy interventions”, experts suggest.

Women have a higher mortality rate

Another article published this week in the magazine The Lancet Public Health warns about the health consequences of the climate crisis in Europe. The report shows that heat-related deaths have increased in Europe over the past decade, but the death rate among women is twice that of men.

Similarly, global warming also has a strong socioeconomic component: low-income people are more likely to suffer from food insecurity and disadvantaged areas are more exposed to polluting particles from forest fires.

Research also shows that southern Europe is susceptible to heat-related illnesses, forest fires, food insecurity, droughts, mosquito-borne diseases and leishmaniasis.

Summer is getting hotter

According to another article, also published in the journal Nature, the summer of 2023 was the warmest in the extratropics of the northern hemisphere in the last 2.000 years. The researchers, led by Jan Esper of the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz (Germany), used a combination of observational data and reconstructions to analyze surface air temperatures between June and August in these areas and time period.

By combining measurements from thousands of weather stations (30-90 degrees north, covering parts of Europe), scientists found that land temperatures in this northern region were 2,07°C higher in the summer of 2023 than average. instrumentals between 1850 and 1900 AD.

In fact, they found that the summer of 2023 was 2,20°C above the average temperature before January 1890. Compared to the coldest summer on record during this period (536 AD, where temperatures are affected by a volcanic eruption ), 2023 was 3,93°C warmer.

The authors conclude that, although the observed warming may not be applicable globally, "the estimates demonstrate the unprecedented nature of the current warming and the need to act urgently to reduce carbon emissions."


'Global, regional and national burden of heatwave-related mortality from 1990 to 2019: A three-stage modeling study'. PLoS Medicine (2024)

Giacomo Falchetta et al.: 'Global projections of heat exposure of older adults'. Nature Communications. (2024)

Kim R van Daalen et al.: 'The 2024 Europe report of the Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: unprecedented warming demands unprecedented action'. The Lancet Public Health (2024)

Jan Esper et al.: '2023 summer warmth unparalleled over the past 2,000 years'. Nature (2024)

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