Heatwave: the challenges of climate change in aged-care facilities

18 July 2011

A University of Sydney researcher will develop life-saving recommendations for aged-care patients during her innovative research project into heatwave responses, which was recently awarded a Climate Change Adaptation Research Grant.

Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, Greg Combet, recently announced the recipients of the $2.6 million in grants for priority research into the social, economic and institutional impacts of climate change across Australia.

Lead researcher, Professor Deborah Black, from the Ageing, Work and Health Unit in the Faculty of Health Sciences, says the study will focus on ways aged-care facilities and their staff can adapt to the increasing likelihood of heatwave events, thus minimising the likelihood of heat-related illness, or death on elderly residents.

The study will be funded over two years and aims to enrol as many aged-care facilities across three states as possible.

"Figures from VicHealth show that an additional 374 Victorians died during the Black Saturday heat-wave of 2009, many of them elderly, yet little is known about the climate-change adaptive capacity of aged-care facilities, and the perceptions of aged-care staff about climate change," says Professor Black.

Prof Deborah Black
Prof Deborah Black

"There is clear evidence to show that Australia's daily temperatures, and ageing population are both increasing.

"Along with the challenges of climate change, come those associated with keeping the elderly well during periods of extreme heat.

"The elderly have decreased heat tolerance and experience changes in thermoregulatory responses. Although much research has been conducted overseas in countries where heatwaves are a rare event, less has been done in Australia, particularly in elderly populations."

The project will investigate the capacity of aged-care facilities to adapt to increasing periods of extreme heat. It will examine policies, procedures, knowledge and environmental factors such as building design and cooling equipment used in aged-care facilities in three Australian states and recommend ways they can adapt to prevent premature death from extreme heat in elderly residents.

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