Aging Americans face deadly risk due to wide temperature swings, study warns

By Dana Drugmand
People over age 65 face a higher risk of dying when exposed to temperatures that swing far outside the seasonal average, findings that underscore an “urgent” need to mitigate climate change, according to new research.

The study, published this month in Environmental Health Perspectives, examined how seasonal variations in temperature impacted mortality rates among older Americans. The authors include researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and the Emory Rollins School of Public Health.

The study concludes that the modulated temperature variability that is accompanying a changing climate “must be considered as a considerable threat to life” for people over 65 years old.

Specifically, the study determined that for every 1°C increase in temperature variability, the annual death rate increased by 1.54% in the warmer half of the year and by 0.69% in the cooler half, based on an analysis of government data on more than 72 million Medicare recipients from 2000 to 2016.

As the climate crisis grows, the world is observing more extreme temperatures, though they come with “a lot more variability and nuance,” said James Healy, a climate change epidemiologist and a lead author of the study. “That nuance, while not seeming immediately life-threatening, still has these pronounced health effects and is killing older Americans.”