Durham boffins’ weather map forecasts where old folk will need help

Professor Sarah Curtis, Department of Geography, Durham University
Professor Sarah Curtis, Department of Geography, Durham University
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BOFFINS says plans need to be put in place to help the region’s ageing population deal with extreme weather conditions.

Researchers from Durham University have mapped areas of England that are most likely to face hot and cold weather spells and increasingly elderly populations over the next 30 years.

Map of the projected distribution of older people in the population of local authority districts in 2031 (with weighting for older age groups) (Red shading = larger proportions of older people)

Map of the projected distribution of older people in the population of local authority districts in 2031 (with weighting for older age groups) (Red shading = larger proportions of older people)

The new maps, created by the university’s Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience, show the North East’s elderly population, especially in more rural areas, is due to increase.

Professor Sarah Curtis, from the department of geography at Durham University, said: “In the North East we will continue to have coldwaves and would expect to see relatively more of these than in the South.

“And, although not as many as in the South, there will be an increase in heatwaves in the North, these can be quite stressful for some older people.”

The findings from the research, which was done by Durham University and Heriot-Watt University, could be used in the planning of future health and social care.

Professor Curtis said: “It makes sense to plan ahead. Coldwaves will continue to occur in the future and pose a significant health risk to older people.

“The 2009/10 coldwave resulted in 25,400 excess winter deaths in England and Wales, the majority amongst those aged 75 and over.

“Service providers must take into account the increasing numbers of retired people living in rural settlements and moving to the coast. In some areas the oldest population will more than double by 2031, so needs for health and social care provision will increase.”

Although coldwaves will be less common nationally, they will continue to challenge health and social care providers, researchers say.

The maps also highlight the risk to coastal areas of flooding and sea-level rise.

By 2031, one in five of England’s population will be aged 65 years and over, and in some areas, the age group will account for more than 40 per cent of the population.

Researchers say that planners must take into account these predicted demographic changes as well as potential weather shocks.

Professor Curtis added: “When extreme weather events occur, special measures are needed to make sure people have access to the care they need in the community as well as in hospitals.

“Planning is important to try to keep road networks and utilities functioning, to ensure community care teams can reach their clients, and to help people manage in their homes in extreme weather.”

The next phase of the project will involve case study work with local authorities to examine the impact of extreme weather on health and social care delivery.

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