United States
Environmental Protection
Climate  Change  and  the
Health  of  Older Adults

Understanding the threats that climate change
poses to human health can help us work
together to lower risks and be prepared.
Climate change threatens human health, including
mental health, and access to clean air, safe drinking
water, nutritious food, and shelter. Everyone is affected
by climate change at some point in their lives. Some
people are more affected by climate change than
others because of factors like where they live; their age,
health, income, and occupation; and how they go
about their day-to-day life.

Older adults are vulnerable to climate change-related
health impacts for a number of reasons. One reason is
that normal changes in the body associated with aging,
such as muscle and bone loss, can limit mobility. Older
adults are also more likely to have a chronic health
condition, such as diabetes, that requires medications
for treatment. Some older adults, especially those with
disabilities, may also need assistance with daily
activities. In 2010, nearly half of people overage 65
were reported to have a disability, compared to about
17% of people aged 21-64. This includes disabilities in
one or more areas related to communication (seeing,
hearing, or speaking), mental functioning (such as
Alzheimer's disease, senility, or dementia), and physical
functioning (limited or no ability to walk, climb stairs,
or lift or grasp objects).

As the nation's population aged 65 and over is set to
nearly double by the year 2050—from approximately
48 million to 88 million—the number of people living
with the vulnerabilities mentioned above will grow. For
example, the percentage of older adults with diabetes
                                  increased from
                                  9% in 1980 to
                                  nearly 20% in 2009. Similarly,
                                  about 5 million Americans over 65
                                  had Alzheimer's disease in 2013. This
                                  number is expected to almost triple
                                  by 2050.

                                  It is important for older adults, their families, and
                                  caregivers to understand the impact of climate change
                                  on their health so they can begin planning to protect
                                  themselves from exposure.
                                    What is climate change and why does it
                                    matter for health?

                                    We've all heard of it, but what exactly is climate change?
                                    Greenhouse gases act like a blanket around Earth,
                                    trapping energy in the atmosphere. Human activities,
                                    especially burning fossil fuels for energy, increase the
                                    amount of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere and
                                    cause the climate to warm. Climate is the typical or
                                    average weather for an area. Climate change is any
                                    change in average weather that lasts for a long period of
                                    time, like warming temperatures. Climate change affects
                                    the food we eat, the air we breathe, and the water we
                                    drink. It also leads to extreme weather events, like
                                    flooding, droughts, and wildfires. All of these impacts
                                    affect human health.

                                    Older adults and their families and caregivers should
                                    consider how the condition of their health and home
                                    affects their exposure to the negative impacts of climate

Extreme Heat

Climate change will increase extreme heat events and
lead to higher temperatures throughout the year.
Extreme heat exposure can increase the risk of illness
and death among older adults, especially people with
congestive heart failure, diabetes, and other chronic
health conditions that increase sensitivity to heat.
Higher temperatures have also been linked to increased
hospital  admissions for older people with heart and
lung conditions. Older adults with limited incomes who
own air conditioning units may not use them during
heat waves due to the high cost to operate them.
Extreme Events

Climate change affects the frequency and intensity of
some extreme weather events, such as flooding
(related to heavy rains, hurricanes, and coastal storms),
droughts, and wildfires. Older adults are more likely to
suffer storm and flood-related fatalities. For example,
almost half of deaths from Hurricane Katrina were
people over age 75, while for Superstorm Sandy almost
half were over age 65. If an extreme event requires
evacuation, older adults have high risk of both physical
and mental health impacts. Some of the most
vulnerable are people with disabilities, with chronic
medical conditions, or living in nursing homes or
assisted-living facilities. Health impacts could be made
worse by interruptions in medical care and challenges
associated with transporting patients with their
necessary medication, medical records, and any
equipment like oxygen. Extreme events can also cause
power outages that can affect electrically-powered
medical equipment and elevators, leaving some
people without treatment or the ability to evacuate.
Poor Air Quality

Climate change worsens air quality because warming
temperatures make it easier for ground-level ozone to
form and can lengthen the season of aeroallergens like
ragweed pollen. Changing weather patterns and more
intense and frequent wildfires also raise the amount of
pollution, dust, and smoke in the air.These changes will
increase the number of emergency department visits
and hospital admissions, even for healthy older adults.
Poor air quality worsens respiratory conditions common
in older adults such as asthma and chronic obstructive
pulmonary disorder (COPD). Air pollution can also
increase the risk of heart attack in older adults,
especially those  who are diabetic or obese.

Illnesses Spread by Ticks or Mosquitoes

Climate change and increased temperatures will lead to
ticks and mosquitoes expanding their ranges and being
present for longer seasons. This means an increased risk
of being bitten by disease-carrying ticks and
mosquitoes. Lyme disease, which is spread by ticks, is
frequently reported in older adults. The West Nile and
St. Louis encephalitis viruses, which are spread by
mosquitoes, pose a greater health risk among older
adults with already weakened immune systems.

Illnesses Caused by Contaminated Water

Climate change increases the contamination risk for
sources of drinking water and recreational water. Older
adults are at high risk of contracting gastrointestinal
illnesses from contaminated water. Those already in
poor health are more likely to suffer severe health
consequences including death. In 2013, almost 28% of
adults age 75 and older were described as in fair or
poor health, compared to 6% for adults age 18 to 44.
The Impact of Location

Depending on where they live, some older adults
can be more vulnerable to climate change-related
health effects than others. For example, about 20%
of older adults live in an area in which a hurricane or
tropical storm made landfall within the last 10 years.
The increasing severity of tropical storms may pose
risks for older adults living in coastal areas. For older
adults residing in cities, factors such as the urban
heat island effect, urban sprawl, and neighborhood
safety may also present risks. For older adults and
people with limited mobility who reside in
multi-story buildings with elevators, the loss of
electricity during a storm  can make it difficult to get
food, medicine, and other needed services.

This fact sheet is based on "The Impacts of Climate
Change on Human Health in the United States: A
Scientific Assessment." To explore the full report, go to:

Learn More

Climate Change: Human Health
Climate Change: What You Can Do

Healthy Aging &the Built Environment
Heat Stress in Older Adults
EPA 430-F-16-058
May 2016