Excessive heat expected to continue into future as global population ages

In 2023, Maricopa County in Arizona tracked 645 heat-related deaths, and in almost 2 in 3 instances the victims were age 50 or older.
Seniors inside of the Justa Center
Posted at 7:16 PM, Jun 06, 2024

Searing heat is scorching the Southwest, and at least 30 million Americans are under heat advisories. The dangerous heat could pose a threat to seniors, a growing population.

In Phoenix, temperatures are expected to reach a high of 114 degrees on Thursday. This week will also mark the first week of 110 degrees or above for the year in the fifth-largest city in the U.S. Phoenix is home to 1.6 million people, and those 65 and older make up 12.4 % of the population, according to the United States Census.

Seniors trickled into the Justa Center in downtown Phoenix as temperatures hit triple digits. The nonprofit organization focuses on helping homeless seniors 55 and older with essentials like water and meals. It also provides resources for housing and a place to stay cool from the blistering heat.

Dean Scheinert, the Justa Center's executive director, said the nonprofit sees a 20% increase in seniors seeking help during the summer months.

“If you’ve never been out in the heat, it’s terrible. It’s terrible, especially for seniors,” Rudy Soliz, the Justa Center director of operations said.

Soliz sought refuge at the Justa Center in 2015. He recalled the brutal summers he endured over several years as a homeless senior.

“From sunup to sundown, you're in this heat,” Soliz said. “One time I had a pair of shoes that had holes in it, and that was the worst time that I had during that summer.”

He said the nonprofit took a shot on him, offering him a job, and it changed his life.

The Justa Center recently extended its hours to keep older adults cool longer, but Scheinert admits there isn't enough affordable housing to help seniors.

“What keeps me up at night is where do our members go after we close our doors,” Scheinert said.

The Justa Center plans to launch a transitional housing program in partnership with another local nonprofit. According to Scheinert, they’re seeking to provide 20 rooms over two years for a total of 80 members who sign up for the program.

The sun over a city skyline


A heat dome is covering regions of the US, triggering excessive heat warnings

Chloe Nordquist
4:18 PM, Jun 04, 2024

In 2023, Maricopa County tracked a record-breaking 645 heat-related deaths, and almost 2 in 3 of the fatalities were people 50 or older, a population growing globally.

Nature Communications published a research study in May looking into excessive heat and seniors. The study determined that the global population of people 60 and older is growing at an unprecedented level and is expected to double by 2050, growing to nearly 2.1 billion older adults.

By 2050, 23% of the population 69 years old or older is expected to be living in temperatures that exceed 99 degrees, exposing an estimated 177 to 246 million more older adults to dangerous heat.

According to the study, seniors are disproportionately vulnerable to the effects of extreme heat due to chronic health conditions, isolation, access to health care, and more.

This year, Dr. Eugene Livar was appointed by Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs as the first state chief heat officer. Livar will oversee the coordination and the execution of the Emergency Heat Preparedness Plan rolled out by Hobbs to provide heat relief this summer.

“We may not know when a hurricane is coming or when a wildfire is going to start, but we know heat season is going to happen every year and we know that we need to be prepared for that going in,” Livar said.

The heat relief plan has short-term and long-term goals, including converting shipping containers into mobile cooling shelters and updating emergency response.

“Every heat-related illness and heat-related death is preventable,” Livar said.

Soliz showed off a fully stocked freezer with ice, and new hats that will be given out to help keep people cool during the hot days.

“The summer here is a killer,” Soliz said.