The number of older people in the UK and other parts of the world is projected to increase significantly in the future. By 2031, people 65 or older will make up over one in five of the population of England. Extreme weather events in areas where older people require care are also projected to increase due to climate change, including floods and heat waves.
Researchers from IHRR and Heriot-Watt University part of the project BIOPICCC (Built Infrastructure for Older People’s Care in Conditions of Climate Change) have recently published a study that has mapped the likely patterns of heat waves, cold waves and flooding in England. BIOPICCC is a 3-year project funded by the EPSRC part of a major research network known as ‘Adaptation and Resilience in a Changing Climate’ (ARCC). It is dedicated to developing strategies to make infrastructure for older people, including health and social care systems, sufficiently resilient to withstand the harmful effects of climate change, up to 2050.
According to the study, the warmest conditions in the future will be experienced in South and South West England, while the East, North West, Yorkshire and Humber will likely experience an increase in heat waves compared to present conditions. While cold waves will be less common they will still present a challenge to health and social care providers.
Professor Sarah Curtis, Director of Frontier Knowledge in IHRR and a researcher in the Department of Geography in Durham University said: ‘It makes sense to plan ahead. Cold waves will continue to occur in the future and pose a significant health risk to older people. The 2009/10 cold wave resulted in 25,400 excess winter deaths in England and Wales, the majority amongst those aged 75 and over.
‘Service providers must take into account the increasing numbers of retired people living in rural settlements and moving to the coast. In some areas the oldest population will more than double by 2031, so needs for health and social care provision will increase’.
‘When extreme weather events occur, special measures are needed to make sure people have access to the care they need in the community as well as in hospitals. Planning is important to try to keep road networks and utilities functioning, to ensure community care teams can reach their clients, and to help people manage in their homes in extreme weather’.
Dr Katie Oven, a researcher in IHRR and the Department of Geography said:
‘Our built infrastructure, including transportation and communication systems, buildings, power lines and care services are susceptible to extreme weather events and increased demands from an ageing population. We have to make these infrastructures and services more resilient’.
‘This is a big challenge for local authorities with limited resources attempting to create resilient environments in areas of increasing vulnerability’.
The study is based on data derived from the UK Climate Impacts Programme and the Environment Agency’s UK Foresight programme. The next phase of the project will involve case study work with local authorities to examine the impact of extreme weather on health and social care delivery and how to make these systems more resilient. Issues identified in the pilot study include the importance of coordination between agencies.
UK must prepare for extreme weather and ageing population. Durham University Press Release
Climate change, health and social care (includes more hazard maps from the project). Sim Reaney’s Blog, Durham University