Climate Change and Older Americans: State of the Science
Janet L. Gamble,1 Bradford J. Hurley,2 Peter A. Schultz,2 Wendy S. Jaglom,2 Nisha Krishnan,2 and Melinda Harris2
1U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC, USA; 2ICF International, Washington, DC, USA
Background: Older adults make up 13% of the U.S. population, but are projected to account for 20% by 2040. Coinciding with this demographic shift, the rate of climate change is accelerating, bringing rising temperatures; increased risk of floods, droughts, and wildfires; stronger tropical storms and hurricanes; rising sea levels; and other climate-related hazards. Older Americans are expected to be located in places that may be relatively more affected by climate change, including coastal zones and large metropolitan areas.
Objective: The objective of this review is to assess the vulnerability of older Americans to climate change and to identify opportunities for adaptation.
Methods: We performed an extensive literature survey and summarized key findings related to demographics; climate stressors relevant to older adults; factors contributing to exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity; and adaptation strategies.
Discussion: A range of physiological and socioeconomic factors make older adults especially sensitive to and/or at risk for exposure to heat waves and other extreme weather events (e.g., hurricanes, floods, droughts), poor air quality, and infectious diseases. Climate change may increase the frequency or severity of these events.
Conclusions: Older Americans are likely to be especially vulnerable to stressors associated with climate change. Although a growing body of evidence reports the adverse effects of heat on the health of older adults, research gaps remain for other climate-related risks. We need additional study of the vulnerability of older adults and the interplay of vulnerability, resilience, and adaptive responses to projected climate stressors.
Key words: adaptation, climate change, elderly, global warming, older adults, resilience, risk assessment, susceptible populations, vulnerability.
Environ Health Perspect 121:15–22 (2013). http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1205223 [Online 2 October 2012]
Address correspondence to J.L. Gamble, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, ORD/NCEA/Global Change Research Program, Two Potomac Yard, N7825, 2733 South Crystal Dr., Arlington, VA 22202 USA. Telephone: (703) 347-8617. Fax: (703) 347-8694. E-mail: email@example.com
We thank P. Berry, K. Knowlton, K. Lane, B. Perkins, H. Stewart, L. Thie, and K. Wheeler for valuable comments on an earlier version of the manuscript.
The views expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
B.J.H., P.A.S., W.S.J., N.K., and M.H. are employed at ICF International, a technology, policy, and management consultancy in Washington, DC. The authors declare they have no actual or potential competing financial interests.
Received 16 March 2012; Accepted 2 October 2012; Online 2 October 2012.
Recent Advance Publications
- Recruitment of Normal Stem Cells to an Oncogenic Phenotype by Noncontiguous Carcinogen-Transformed Epithelia Depends on the Transforming Carcinogen
- Associations between Fine and Coarse Particles and Mortality in Mediterranean Cities: Results from the MED-PARTICLES Project
- Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome, and Obesity in Relation to Serum Dioxin Concentrations: The Seveso Women’s Health Study
- The Racial/Ethnic Distribution of Heat Risk-Related Land Cover in Relation to Residential Segregation
- Roxarsone, Inorganic Arsenic, and Other Arsenic Species in Chicken: A U.S.-Based Market Basket Sample
- N-6-Adenine-Specific DNA Methyltransferase 1 (N6AMT1) Polymorphisms and Arsenic Methylation in Andean Women
- A Prospective Study of Arsenic Exposure, Arsenic Methylation Capacity, and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease in Bangladesh