A new UK-wide research project has found a ‘critical’ need for urban interventions that reduce the negative impact of extreme weather on the health and wellbeing of older people.
Academics from the Urban Institute at Heriot-Watt University, together with the Stockholm Environment Institute at the University of York, say climate change is affecting the physical, social, and mental wellbeing of ageing populations, and warned there is now a pressing public health issue.
We urgently need to think creatively about how we develop interventions that can support older people before, during and after extreme weather events
In their report, titled: Healthy Ageing in a Changing Climate, researchers identify a need for ‘actionable’ interventions to better support the delivery of inclusive, climate resilient age-friendly cities and communities.
Professor Ryan Woolrych is director of the Urban Institute at Heriot-Watt University and led the research. He said: “Climate change is having a profound impact on our ageing population who are often the most at risk from extreme weather.
"We urgently need to think creatively about how we develop interventions that can support older people before, during and after extreme weather events. Failing to act now risks further negative impacts on older people including increased mortality.”
The UK is home to more than 11 million people aged 65 and over, constituting almost 19% of the overall population.
This demographic is expected to grow to 13 million people by 2030, accounting for 22% of the population. At the same time, climate change is increasing the severity and frequency of extreme weather events.
Dr Gary Haq, a senior researcher from the Stockholm Environment Institute at the University of York, collaborated on the project.
He said: "Our society is getting older, and this brings particular health needs. It's crucial to understand that more frequent and severe extreme weather events will harm the health and wellbeing 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."
Academics gathered opinions of more than 140 older adults, policymakers, and practitioners, across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales in 2022/23. They explored the factors that contribute to the resilience of older people to climate change, including heatwaves, flooding and storms.
The report highlights six areas for intervention, these are:
- Empowering older people towards climate action
- Mobilising community and social infrastructure
- Enhancing mobility and transport for healthy ageing
- Climate resilient housing for ageing-in-place
- Healthcare and wellbeing for older adults in extreme weather
- Intergenerational communities and climate resilience
Professor Woolrych finished: “We are now calling for a joined-up approach including local and national governments, to consider the physical, social and community aspects of ageing well in communities and how we can integrate this in a way that will provide the resources, amenities and supports for people.”
The research has been funded by UK Research and Innovation. It comes as the UN prepares to hold its pivotal Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai from November 30 to December 12, 2023.
The annual conference is the world’s only multilateral decision-making forum on climate change with almost complete membership of every country in the world.