Heat Exposure, Heat-Related Symptoms and Coping Strategies among Elderly Residents of Urban Slums and Rural Vilages in West Bengal, India

Article Type

Research Article

Publication Title

International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health


The impact of heat stress among the elderly in India—particularly the elderly poor—has received little or no attention. Consequently, their susceptibility to heat-related illnesses is virtually unknown, as are the strategies they use to avoid, or deal with, the heat. This study examined perceptions of comfort, heat-related symptoms, and coping behaviors of 130 elderly residents of Kolkata slums and 180 elderly residents of rural villages south of Kolkata during a 90-day period when the average 24-h heat indexes were between 38.6 °C and 41.8 °C. Elderly participants in this study reported being comfortable under relatively warm conditions—probably explained by acclimatization to the high level of experienced heat stress. The prevalence of most heat-related symptoms was significantly greater among elderly women, who also were more likely to report multiple symptoms and more severe symptoms. Elderly women in the rural villages were exposed to significantly hotter conditions during the day than elderly men, making it likely that gender differences in symptom frequency, number and severity were related to gender differences in heat stress. Elderly men and elderly village residents made use of a greater array of heat-coping behaviors and exhibited fewer heat-related symptoms than elderly women and elderly slum residents. Overall, heat measurements and heat-related symptoms were less likely to be significant predictors of most coping strategies than personal characteristics, building structures and location. This suggests that heat-coping behaviors during hot weather were the result of complex, culturally influenced decisions based on many different considerations besides just heat stress.



Publication Date



Open Access, Gold, Green

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