Addressing Climate Change Will Benefit Older Adults, GSA Says

Author:  Todd Kluss
As President Barack Obama revealed details about the Environmental Protection Agency’s new Clean Power Plan at the White House today, The Gerontological Society of America (GSA) — the nation’s largest interdisciplinary organization devoted to the field of aging — applauded the inclusion of older adults as a population especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

The Clean Power Plan encompasses the first national standards intended to reduce carbon pollution from power plants. Such emissions have contributed to harmful environmental conditions, according to the EPA, including extreme weather events such as severe droughts and record heat waves.

“Impact of Climate Change on Elder Health,” a 2013 article published in GSA’s The Journals of Gerontology, Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, reported that older adults are more sensitive to changes in the environment and exposure to toxins, noxious agents, and infectious agents. Further, they experience adverse health effects at lower concentrations of air pollutants, and periods of high levels of air pollution are related to increased numbers of hospitalizations for cardiovascular disease and lung disease in older persons.

“President Obama showed insight and leadership by making a connection between climate change and the legacy left by today’s Americans,” said Michael A. Smyer, PhD, a GSA fellow and professor of psychology at Bucknell University. “His upcoming birthday caused him to reflect on concerns for his children and grandchildren, clearly a part of what I call ‘graying green’ — linking one’s own aging and a concern for future generations.”

Smyer added that Obama could have gone further by highlighting the impact of climate change and its adverse weather events on older adults.

“Moreover, not only are they among the groups disproportionately affected by climate change, older adults also vote disproportionately more than other age groups, and could be important in influencing public officials at the local, state, and national level,” he said.

Numerous other GSA publications have examined the link between the environment and the aging population. Two issues of Public Policy & Aging Report, “We Are What We Eat, Breathe, and Do” and “Gray and Green Together,” focused on the topic. “Fine Particulate Matter Air Pollution and Cognitive Function Among U.S. Older Adults,” published in The Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, found that poor air quality can contribute to age-related cognitive decline.

“Climate change affects us all, and the Clean Power Plan has the potential to benefit every generation,” said GSA CEO and Executive Director, James Appleby, BPharm, MPH. “Because aging is a lifelong process, we can expect to see a sustained positive impact on health outcomes for years to come.”

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