Monday, December 12, 2011

Elderly most at risk of climate change, says report

Darragh O'Keefe in Aged Care Insite (Australia): Climate change will lead to greater injuries, disease and deaths in the decades to come, according to a new report which says health professionals and organisations have a responsibility to show leadership and educate the public. The report by the Climate Commission, an independent body of climate scientists and policy makers, says vulnerable members of the community – the elderly, along with children and those living in remote areas – are most at risk.

The Critical Decade: Climate Change and Health found few Australians are aware of the risks climate change poses to their health as the public and policy discussion has tended to focus on environmental impacts.

Yet the risks to human health from climate change include: injuries and fatalities arising from heatwaves and other severe weather events; spread of infectious diseases; water and food contamination; exacerbated respiratory and heart diseases; and mental health problems.

Climate change is forecast to lead to thousands of premature deaths from heat by 2050, the report said. Heat is a silent killer and is the leading cause of weather-related deaths in Australia. The number of hot days has doubled in the past 50 years, leading to more heat-related deaths and disease, the report said.

Recent heatwaves around Australia caused increased hospital admissions for kidney disease, acute renal failure and heart attacks. During the severe heatwaves in south-eastern Australia in 2009, Melbourne experienced three consecutive days at or above 43C in late January. There were 980 deaths during this period - 374 more than the estimated 606 that would have occurred on average for that time of year. Most of the increase was among people aged 75 or older, the report noted....

An elderly swag man in 1901, from the New South Wales government printer

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