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Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Environmental concerns are frequent topics of conversation, media coverage, and controversy. Our personal responsibility for being environmentally conscientious and considerate does not stop or become any less important as we age. As health care and social services professionals we understand that our environmental interactions, whether public or personal, impact health and well being in a variety of ways. For example, we know that pollution (air, water, land) and conserving finite natural resources (fresh water, forests) and the negative impact of toxins on our quality of life (carcinogens, antibiotics in food, pesticides), and more affect all generations.
As professionals, we need to focus on their risk factors and compromised safety caused by environmental issues. Because age-related physical changes reduce the body's ability to overcome environmental challenges and adapt, growing older tends to pose additional hazards. As a result, older adults become increasingly vulnerable to acute illness and exacerbate chronic illness. In addition, safety is compromised by environmental factors because older adults are less able to combat contaminants in the air and water, toxic substances in food, and UV radiation. Overall aging changes may expose individuals to greater incidence of injury, higher levels of morbidity and perhaps, premature death.
While working with older adults, it is important to educate them and their family members about potential harm. Harm may be caused as a result of polluted air and water that threaten cardiovascular health or could exacerbate a chronic condition. Health care costs related to heart disease and stroke is a staggering hundreds of billions of dollars per year!3
The Environmental Protection Agency has developed an 'Aging Initiative' focused on raising awareness about hazards to the health of older people. "Educating older adults about second-hand smoke, pollutants, fumes from products, pesticide poisoning may help to enhance wellness, quality of life, and decrease healthcare costs".4 Professionals may find the following EPA recommendations helpful. These strategies are intended to help educate older adults about reducing environmental hazards that may impact heart disease, stroke, COPD, diabetes and other climate sensitive health problems.
Along with educating older adults about the environmental impact on their health and wellness consider ways to encouraging them to be good stewards of the environment. Remind them that we are all responsible to protect the environment and conserve natural resources. The following are a few additional tips you might suggest:
Environmental Protection Agency - Aging Initiative. Provides facts sheets and information about protecting the environmental health of older adults.
GERO GEMS is a monthly publication of the Center for Aging with Dignity. Compiled by Evelyn Fitzwater, this publication is designed to raise awareness of aging and related issues impacting health care professionals and our society as a whole.
Last Reviewed: May 07, 2009
Evelyn L Fitzwater, DSN, RN
Associate Professor Emerita
Associate Director of the
College of Nursing
University of Cincinnati