Several factors can contribute to the quality of life of an older adult, many of which are related to the environment that surrounds them. According to ONU projections, by 2050, almost 25 percent of the world population will be 55 years old or older; this implies that the ageing of the population together with environmental change are, and will be even more, two key challenges that must be addressed to guarantee a secure, equitable and sustainable future for all.
A recent study of 1,031 older adults analyzed four different facets that affect the quality of life of an older person and examined which types of environmental factors influenced each facet, as well as the degree to which they affected quality of life scores.
The four aspects of the quality of life analyzed by the study were: social, physical, psychological and environmental. The social aspect included personal relationships, social support and sexual life. The physical health aspect included mobility, daily activities, functional capacity, energy, pain and sleep. The psychological included self-image, negative thoughts, positive attitudes, self-esteem and mental state. The environmental contemplated financial resources, security, health and social services, life environment, opportunities to acquire new skills and knowledge, recreation, general environment (noise, air pollution, etc.), housing and transportation.
Among the environmental factors, those that directly impacted the quality of life scores were: housing (comfort, size, general satisfaction with living space, etc.), facilities, neighborhood (interaction with neighbors, behavior of neighbors, etc.), problems of coexistence (vandalism, crime, social insecurity, etc.), noise and traffic.
Not surprisingly, all of the environmental factors examined have had an impact on quality of life scores. Taken together, these factors represented 24% of the variation in them, with the section on facilities and housing having the greatest impact on the lives of our seniors.
Based on the data obtained and seeing that environmental aspects affect multiple aspects of quality of life, the authors suggest focusing interventions mainly on these factors to better support the quality of life of older adults.
Climate change affects us all
On the other hand, a new report from an international consortium led by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) at York University and the Gerontological Research Center of Simon Fraser University, and including the Senior Volunteer and Volunteer Program of Community Service (RSVP), highlights the need for knowledge of the effects of a changing environment on older people around the world.
Dr Gary Haq of the SEI said: "Our study shows that older people are particularly vulnerable to environmental change, but awareness among policy makers and older people is lagging behind. Policy makers must understand the interaction between global ageing and the environment to prevent and minimize the disproportionate negative impacts on older people".
The results of a pilot international survey on the attitudes of older people suggest that they are concerned about the environment, the threat of climate change and energy and water security. They are pessimistic about the state of the planet that future generations will inherit and believe that environmental challenges will have grown significantly by the year 2050.
Professor Gloria Gutman, associate researcher at the Gerontology Research Center of Simon Fraser University, said: "Older people, and especially those with chronic diseases, should recognize that environmental change can affect them personally." Data from around the world show that climate-related disasters kill older people at a disproportionate rate. "
The report calls for appropriate policies to encourage older people to reduce their personal contribution to environmental change, protect older people from environmental threats and mobilize their wealth, knowledge and experience to address environmental problems.
The report highlights three areas where measures must be taken
Reduce the environmental footprint of the ageing of the population by promoting more ecological attitudes and behaviors and choices of individual lifestyles. For example, make sure that the houses are well insulated, which can also save on fuel bills or use more efficient cars or public transport. This could be done with a specific commitment of the elderly and providing appropriate infrastructure and incentives.
Protect older people from environmental change by adopting policies that reduce their environmental vulnerability. In developing countries, the lack of basic infrastructure, such as clean water and sanitation, health and social assistance, combined with poverty and malnutrition, makes them vulnerable to environmental threats.
The report underscores the need for more evidence-based research for a better understanding of the unique geographic and socioeconomic factors that affect the interaction between older people and environmental change.
It also calls for policies to be "age-proof" and to support older people throughout their lives and take advantage of the contribution they can make to address environmental threats and reduce their vulnerability.