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Perceptions of Heat-Susceptibility in Older Persons: Barriers to Adaptation

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Author(s): Alana Hansen | Peng Bi | Monika Nitschke | Dino Pisaniello | Jonathan Newbury | Alison Kitson

Journal: International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
ISSN 1660-4601

Volume: 8;
Issue: 12;
Start page: 4714;
Date: 2011;
Original page

Keywords: heat | elderly | vulnerability | public health

ABSTRACT
The increase in the frequency of very hot weather that is a predicted consequence of climate change poses an emerging threat to public health. Extreme heat can be harmful to the health of older persons who are known to be amongst the most vulnerable in the community. This study aimed to investigate factors influencing the ability of older persons to adapt to hot conditions, and barriers to adaptation. A qualitative study was conducted in Adelaide, Australia, involving focus groups and interviews with stakeholders including key personnel involved in aged care, community services, government sectors, emergency services and policy making. Findings revealed a broad range of factors that underpin the heat-susceptibility of the aged. These were categorized into four broad themes relating to: physiology and an age-related decline in health; socioeconomic factors, particularly those influencing air conditioning use; psychological issues including fears and anxieties about extreme heat; and adaptive strategies that could be identified as both enablers and barriers. As a consequence, the ability and willingness to undertake behavior change during heatwaves can therefore be affected in older persons. Additionally, understanding the control panels on modern air conditioners can present challenges for the aged. Improving heat-health knowledge and addressing the social and economic concerns of the older population will assist in minimizing heat-related morbidity and mortality in a warming climate.
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