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Rising Temperatures Pose Severe Risks for Older Adults Globally

A deadly heat wave struck large parts of Asia for weeks in April and May 2024, pushing temperatures in India above 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43.3 Celsius) on May 7. The extreme heat caused politicians, local news announcers, and voters waiting in long lines to faint. From Japan to the Philippines, the unrelenting heat disrupted daily life, forcing schools in Cambodia to close as hand-held fans failed to provide relief in poorly ventilated classrooms. In Thailand, farmers witnessed their crops and livestock succumb to the intense sun, leading to hundreds of heat-related deaths.

Recent years have seen severe heat waves affecting much of the planet. In 2023, the southwestern United States experienced a brutal heat wave, with Phoenix enduring temperatures of 110 F (43.3 C) or higher for 31 consecutive days, earning the description “hell on earth.” Simultaneously, Europe faced record-high temperatures that resulted in hundreds of deaths and severe wildfires in Greece. These extreme heat events are particularly deadly for older adults, a demographic increasingly at risk due to rising global temperatures and an aging population.

As temperatures continue to climb and the global population of older adults increases, the risks associated with heat exposure will intensify. By 2050, the number of people aged 60 and older is projected to double, and nearly a quarter of those aged 69 and above will live in areas where peak temperatures exceed 99.5 degrees F (37.5 degrees C). This growing threat necessitates urgent action from policymakers, communities, and families to protect older adults, especially in low- and middle-income countries where access to electricity, cooling, and safe water is limited. Preparing for this future requires significant investments in infrastructure, healthcare, and climate resilience to mitigate the effects of extreme heat on vulnerable populations.


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