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Healthcare system efficiency

Older people will face higher health risks


Climate change and the ageing Czech population will increase demands on Czech national emergency services. Scientists at the National Institute for Research on the Socioeconomic Impacts of Diseases and Systemic Risks (SYRI) will produce a study on whether the services are adequately prepared for crises like the recent wildfire in the Bohemian Switzerland region and the tornado in southern Moravia.

The Czech population is ageing and moving from towns and cities to the countryside, a fact which will change the structure of emergency calls and responses to them. While ageing is important value for our societies, there are several layers of challenges posed by both the environmental and demographic changes. These spread from individual, like rising number of patients with chronic diseases or Alzheimer´s dementia, to local like heatwaves or extreme colds, floods, and wildfires, to global, like Covid-19 pandemic, and another similar viral challenges in the future.

Another fact that will affect the emergency health services is the increasing number of calls from people in rural or remote and socially disadvantaged areas, or calls related to higher outside temperatures. Heat waves pose a significant health risk, particularly to frail older people who may suffer from a combination of illnesses, high blood pressure, impaired thermoregulation and reduced thirst, making them more likely to suffer acute health issues such as dehydration and dizziness, which increase the risk of falls in the elderly. “At the same time, advice not to leave the house when the weather is hot may affect older adults’ physical activity and social relationships and can increase psychological discomfort, leading to depression and anxiety. All this becomes an interconnected spiral of events,” says SYRI researcher Lucie Vidovićová, while calling for more integrated action.

Researchers agree that crisis situations like wildfires and floods increase the risk of death in the older people as a direct consequence, by reducing chances of survival and impairing quality of life. “At the same time, these crisis situations significantly reduce the availability of healthcare, complicate or even make impossible the treatment of chronic diseases, often have devastating effects on the mental health of older people, and affect other psycho-socio-economic aspects of life in older age,” Vidovićová says.

Figures based on global data show that older adults are more frequent victims of crises than their proportion in the population would suggest. For instance, 75% of victims of the effects of Hurricane Katrina, which struck the south-eastern coast of the US in 2005, were 60 years old or older, and 56% of victims of the 2011 tsunami in Japan were 65 years old or older. “We observe similar figures for deaths connected to wildfires in Portugal, to heat waves in general, and obviously to the Covid-19 pandemic,” says Vidovićová, who together with her colleagues will now address this research topic in the Czech Republic.

SYRI scientists will then use the data to develop methodological tools and techniques that will help modify the ‘frontline’ emergency healthcare system and develop a support for the first responders and disaster management.

One key objective is to map the current situation of how emergency first response services are prepared for the needs of an ageing population – in terms of everyday activities, on a strategic level, and also taking into account climate change and widespread changes in weather patterns and subsequent natural disasters. This will be followed by the development of interventions to ensure health protection and support for professionals who provide healthcare to the older people in a crisis.


Mgr. Lucie Vidovićová Ph.D.

Position: Senior researcher
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