Older people, one of the groups most affected by climate change

Climate change is a problem that affects all of humanity, but it will affect the most vulnerable population groups such as children, pregnant women, people with chronic health problems and individuals over 65 years of age to a greater extent.
Older people are particularly sensitive to the effects of climate change on their health because of two factors:

  • They are a population group whose growth is accelerating in recent decades, doubling in number in just 50 years and outnumbering children under the age of 5. This means that more individuals in this age group are exposed to the consequences of climate change.
  • Physiological changes due to the ageing process condition the response of older people to the effects of climate change. Decreased thermoregulatory and pulmonary capacity, among others, lead to a greater effect of extreme temperatures and exposure to environmental pollutants. To this must be added factors such as the cumulative effect of repeated exposure and socio-economic determinants such as poverty, low educational attainment or a lack of family and social networks.

It is imperative, therefore, that nursing professionals understand why extreme weather events are related to climate change and how they affect the health of older adults in order to create strategies or interventions to prevent, adapt or reduce the impact on this population. This research group has developed the Children’s Environmental Health project led by Dr Cristina Álvarez-García, Dr Isabel M. López-Medina and Dr Carmen Álvarez-Nieto, in which the Children’s Environmental Health Knowledge Questionnaire (ChEHK-Q) and the Children’s Environmental Health Skills Questionnaire (ChEHS-Q) have been constructed, available on the project’s website.

In order to gain a deeper understanding of how climate change affects the health of older people, a scoping review is being carried out which will provide an up-to-date analysis of the available scientific evidence, including reports from agencies and institutions specialising in climate change and health. Prior to the scoping review, a protocol has been developed following the guidelines of the Joanna Briggs Institute and the PRISMA-ScR scoping checklist to enhance the quality and rigour of the review.

This protocol has been published in: Montoro-Ramírez EM, Parra-Anguita L, Álvarez-Nieto C, et al. Effects of climate change in the elderly’s health: a scoping review protocol. BMJ Open 2022;12:e058063.

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