In 2015, when Diana and Charles Cox were considering where to retire, they drove their RV southwest to visit several potential locations, including Santa Fe, Sedona, Phoenix, and Las Vegas.
The couple had lived in San Jose, Calif., for nearly 20 years, but Cox had cut back on her career as a biotech attorney, and her income was dwindling as taxes, housing and other living expenses rose.
Her husband, 71, a contractor, retired several years ago. Ms. Cox, 69, said, “It was getting harder and harder to pay the mortgage.”
Phoenix won because it was cheaper, had an international airport, and had more essential health care providers for the two chronically ills. In 2016, the couple purchased a home in a community of over 55 people outside of Goodyear, Arizona. I knew the summer heat was going to be brutal, so I had plans to move back to the Bay Area and spend the season in my RV.
But the pandemic has made travel feel unsafe for years. Mr. Cox was undergoing treatment for prostate cancer. Cox’s father moved and needed care. So they spent most of the summer at Goodyear.
How many older Americans, like the Cox family, are exposed to extreme heat Increased hasIt is the result of an aging population, continued migration to hotter locations, and climate change. Researchers say the trend will get worse.
“The places that are trendy now are just the ones that are old,” says Deborah Kerr, a sociologist at Boston University and the lead author of a recent book. Study of population aging and heat exposure.
Long known as a retirement destination, Phoenix has had an average of 108 days above 100 degrees each year since 1970. But this year has been brutal, and by July 31st, Phoenix has already had 68 days of the year above 100 degrees. From the end of June to the end of July, there were 31 consecutive days of temperatures above 110 degrees Fahrenheit, setting a record.
And just this weekend, dangerous heat returned to the city.
“It’s been a miserable summer outside of Phoenix,” Cox said in the morning, when Goodyear temperatures were already hitting 106 degrees Celsius. We weren’t as social as I would have liked. “
This year has been particularly dire. The couple was forced to move in an RV for three months starting in June due to a delay in their home renovation project. Her two air conditioning units in the vehicle are out of order. So does the refrigerator, where salads wilt and milk rots.
“A few days ago the temperature here went up to 92 degrees,” Cox said. “The cats were prostrate under the ceiling fan.” She described the heat in the room as “unpleasant, but not fatal.”
But heat can certainly be deadly, especially for older people. Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, last year 425 heat-related deaths, 25% increase from 2021. Two-thirds occurred in people over the age of 50.
of Population aged 65 and over is increasing 52% from 2009 to 2019 in Arizona. It increased 57% in Nevada and 47% in Texas. This reflects not only the aging of the current population, but also the ongoing migration to these states.
The Census Bureau last year 600,000 seniors move to new states From 2015 to 2019, Florida, Arizona, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas had the most net migrations each year.
At the same time, climate change is increasing temperatures in normally mild regions. “Heat exposure is increasing most rapidly in areas that are already old—the Midwest, the Northeast, New England, etc.,” Dr. Carr said. “And we’re not very prepared for that.”
Older people, especially those with chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, sensitive to extreme heat because they have more have trouble regulating body temperature, The body’s ability to maintain body temperature.
“The aging body is less efficient at pumping blood to the skin, less efficient at sweating, and less able to cool itself down,” said Neil Tumara, Ph.D., a surgeon and co-director of the Institute for Climate Health at George Washington University. said.
“This makes the heart less pumpable,” she says, increasing cardiovascular stress and illness.commonly used medicine Certain drugs, such as diuretics and beta-blockers, can increase your risk of dehydration without realizing it.
Increased risk of kidney disease and kidney failure. Mobility and cognitive problems may prevent older people from seeking help.
“Burning heat is the most dangerous form of weather in the United States, far more than hurricanes, tornadoes and wildfires,” said Brian Stone Jr., a professor of environmental planning at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
hello, Effects of large-scale blackouts With three cities — Detroit, Atlanta and Phoenix — all experiencing powerful heatwaves, the likelihood of such blackouts is increasing everywhere, Dr. Stone said. Grid failures affecting more than 50,000 people have more than doubled in the last six years for which data are available.
The researchers modeled temperatures of 95 degrees (Detroit), 97 degrees (Atlanta), and 113 degrees (Phoenix) for five days, power outages for all homes for 48 hours, and power phasing over the next 72 hours. I assumed it would be restored. people.
In Detroit, which has fewer air-conditioned homes than many cities in the South, more than 220 people will die from heat stroke, the study found. Six people have died in Atlanta.
In Phoenix, like nearly all natural disasters, the heat wave could kill more than 13,000 people, most of them elderly, not a typo.
But Dr. Kerr doubts that even this summer’s scorching heat will discourage travel to popular retirement spots. Except for mild winters, Dr. Carr said, “older people want to move to places where the cost of living and housing is lower.”
They may see summer heat as temporary or abnormal, or they may “prioritize families over possible heatwaves,” she noted.
That’s exactly why Gene Swain Horton moved from Sacramento (a hotspot in itself) to Frisco, Texas two years ago. Her son and her daughter-in-law are moving with their new baby, Theo, and they want Theo to come with them. She moved into the same apartment complex.
Horton, 67, doesn’t like being indoors for nearly five months of the year or living in a dimly lit apartment with shades out to block the sun. But she loves being close to Theo and helping take care of him. “I will go anywhere to be near her grandchildren,” she said.
John Berger, recently retired at age 68, just sold a house near Long Beach, Calif., but he and his wife had never installed or needed air conditioning in it. They are heading to Albuquerque, where they plan to buy a house to share with her adult daughter and her roommate.
Long Beach, he estimates, would cost at least $900,000 to live in for multiple generations, a price that is out of reach for the retiree. Albuquerque, he thinks, can do half that.
Albuquerque can be hot, but the city only averages four days a year above 100 degrees (although the city counted 15 days through July this year).
“Maybe it’s a denial,” Berger said of her family’s decision to live with the heat. “Maybe it’s just, ‘Find out what works for you.'” People learn to adapt. “
Mr. and Mrs. Cox adapted. They have solar panels installed on their home and plan to purchase backup batteries. There is a backup generator for your RV in case of a power outage. Mr. Cox always carries water with him when he leaves the house.
But in her overheated RV, she can sometimes yearn for the breezy Bay Area. How many days has the temperature exceeded 100 degrees in San Jose so far this year? Zero.
“If I had the money, I would go back to the California coast,” Cox said. “It would be nice if the windows could be opened.”