Cool Towns for the Elderly - Protecting the Health of Elderly Urban Residents Against Heat Stress

Saturday, July 19, 2014: 1:00 PM
Room: F205
Oral Presentation
Anna WANKA , Department of Sociology, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria
Background: The 2003 heat wave in Europe resulted in 70,000 deaths. Particularly at risk were socially disadvantaged persons over the age of 65 years. The STOPHOT project explores how the elderly Viennese population perceives adjusts their behavior to heat. Of specific interest are the behavior patterns of older persons with lower SES living in socially deprived urban areas.

Methods: Using a standardised questionnaire, a telephone survey was conducted in summer 2011. 400 subjects (>65y) living in four different residential area types in Vienna were interviewed. In addition, face-to-face interviews with residents of retirement homes (n=200) and 15 in-depth interviews with stakeholders were carried out.

Results: Heat primarily affects the elderly’s energy balance. Most frequently mentioned conditions are fatigue (58%) and sleeping problems (48%). Older people adjust their behavior during a heat wave mainly by wearing lighter clothes, increasing liquid intake and staying indoors during daytime. High-risk groups are persons with a lower socio-economic status and activity level as well as poor health condition. This group is also more likely to withdraw from the public for the duration of the hot periods. Those who don’t withdraw suffer from fewer heat-induced ailments.  Factors that increase the likeliness to stay at home are a disadvantaged neighborhood, dissatisfaction with and lack of neighborhood networks and age discrimination in the residential area. Whether older socially deprived individuals go out during a heat wave period is not so much a result of available green spaces, but rather of existing socio-spatial conditions.    

Conclusion: The elderly are particularly vulnerable towards heat stress. With urban populations ageing, and urban temperatures rising, design of urban areas must increasingly consider the interaction of social and climatic factors to increase age-friendliness. Vulnerability towards heat is not natural, but produced by socio-spatial conditions and can be counteracted by community-building initiatives.