In the last few years, more Australians were killed by heatwaves than by road accidents, floods, fires and all other natural disasters combined. Even though experts believe that certain parts of Australia might have problems with extreme cold, however, record-breaking summer heats warn that more heat-related deaths could happen. Heat stress has damaging effects on health, and it has become a public health challenge.

One research has been focusing only on the effects of extreme heat on older people. What is interesting is that the role of urban greenery in helping reduce heat stress for seniors is overlooked. Heat stress especially impacts older people, because of limited mobility and pre-existing medical conditions.

During the summer, older adults have limited options for outdoor activities in cities, because of the design of the urban areas. What needs to be incorporated in public areas to help seniors during the heat is more vegetation volume, more shading in public and thermal design that should reduce heat in certain areas. The easiest and the fastest way to solve this problem is to increase greenery in urban areas.

Ageing adults in Australia need more greenery in the cities

According to the latest reports, 20 per cent of all population will have 60 or more years by 2050. In Australia this number is even higher – 23 per cent. By 2050, one in four Australians will be vulnerable to extreme heat conditions. What is troubling is that the changes in climate could bring even more extreme heat events.

Ageing adults are becoming a significant part of the population in Australia, and because of this, urban centres must be planned to meet their needs. Experts believe that adding more greenery to the centres is a simple and elegant solution to the problem. Furthermore, scientific research has shown that more greenery in urban areas not only improves the overall quality of life but also reduces loneliness and social isolation.

New communities will have to be designed according to the needs of the ageing population. The quality of local areas seriously impacts the overall quality of life of seniors. However, a recent study has shown that the experiences of seniors are not considered when designing a new neighbourhood or a community.

What about senior care?

Older people often have to choose where are they going to live as they age. Usually, they have two options – living in aged care or “age in place”. The second option includes living in own home or living with family or friends. According to official stats, around 90 per cent of all senior Australians choose this option.

On the other hand, if one in ten Australians chooses aged care, it is essential that these facilities should be designed and built to minimise stress caused by heat. This can be good for residents and operators as well. Another problem with these facilities is that most of them were built more than a decade ago when the heat wasn’t that big of a problem as it is now. At the moment there are many facilities built (and there will be more in the future), but whether they are designed to minimise heat stress, it remains to be seen.

What does the research say?

One study that was carried out recently focused on whether the aged care facilities try to minimise heat stress by implementing new design solutions. The participants in the study were senior managers from four different Australian corporate providers of aged care. The research also tried to find out how and why they decided to implement new design solutions.

Some respondents claimed that they had refurbished their facilities with green walls and roofs, accompanied by sensory gardens. These changes have cooling effects, and at the same time they improve mental health and reduce the anxiety of residents. The possibility of doing a single intervention on their facilities, but having multiple benefits is what made the companies realise this is a good idea. Participants in the research stated that introducing the green space was done not only to improve the lives of residents, but also to attract new clients. Furthermore, another benefit that they witnessed is that they had a better working environment for employees.

Another interesting point of view that was shared by participants was about adding more greenery to their facilities. Before adding anything, they first had to think about the possible risk of roots becoming trip hazards. They also had to select certain species that would work in their facilities, because plants that were not appropriate could undermine the whole idea.

Experts agree that more can be done to make it easier for seniors to live in the cities during heatwaves. Adding more greenery is undoubtedly a good start, but another step would be to encourage aged-care facilities to have a greener infrastructure. Furthermore, planning for the future design of the urban areas must take into account seniors who choose to age in place.