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New study raises concerns as health threat targeting older people expected to double in coming decades: 'This is a question of intergenerational inequality'

"The impact on health systems and global inequality will be huge."

"The impact on health systems and global inequality will be huge."

Photo Credit: iStock

The number of older people worldwide exposed to dangerous heat conditions is projected to double by 2050, according to a new study.

Dangerous heat conditions are those with a heat index — which is a measure of what it feels like when relative humidity is factored into air temperature — between 103 and 124 degrees Fahrenheit.

What's happening?

Earth's population is aging rapidly. By 2050, scientists predict that one of every five people will be over 60 years old and subject to extreme heat conditions. By then, 25% of Europe's population, for example, is projected to be 70 or older, as The Guardian reported. Heat-related deaths across Europe have also increased by 30% over the last 20 years, per Earth.org.

"Two-thirds of [older adults] will live in low- and middle-income countries where extreme climate events are especially likely," the paper's authors predicted.

Why is this trend concerning?

As we age, our body's ability to regulate temperature diminishes. Older people are also more likely to have chronic illnesses, including heart and lung problems, that worsen in dangerous heat conditions.

Hotspots with high concentrations of older adults and extreme heat, such as Europe and Asia, will become more common, increasing vulnerability.

The intensity and duration of last year's heat waves across Europe concerned public health officials, who recommended that health care organizations be more prepared for heat-related illnesses in the future.

Younger generations in many countries will have to bear a heavy social burden because of declining fertility rates and a shrinking working-age population.

The Guardian noted "the impact on health systems and global inequality will be huge" and that "a large part of the social burden will fall on taxpayers."

"This is a question of intergenerational inequality," said Giacomo Falchetta, one of the study's authors. 

What's being done about it?

A U.K. startup has developed innovative clothing that allows the people wearing it to be significantly cooler when temperatures rise.

Texas and California found success running their electrical grids on battery power during summer 2023, when Texas had its second-hottest summer on record.

At an individual level, you can go in several directions to make an impact. Ensure your home is weatherized correctly to keep your air conditioning running efficiently and avoid breakdowns.

If you want to run your AC less, consider investing in solar shades, which offer an eco-friendly way to keep your home cool.

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