Individually experienced heat stress among elderly residents of an urban slum and rural village in India

Article Type

Research Article

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International Journal of Biometeorology


The elderly are one of the most vulnerable groups to heat-related illnesses and mortality. In tropical countries like India, where heat waves have increased in frequency and severity, few studies have focused on the level of stress experienced by the elderly. The study presented here included 130 elderly residents of Kolkata slums and 180 elderly residents of rural villages about 75 km south of Kolkata. It used miniature monitoring devices to continuously measure temperature, humidity, and heat index experienced during everyday activities over 24-h study periods, during hot summer months. In the Kolkata slum, construction materials and the urban heat island effect combined to create hotter indoor than outdoor conditions throughout the day, and particularly at night. As a result, elderly slum residents were 4.3 times more likely to experience dangerous heat index levels (≥ 45°C) compared to rural village elderly. In both locations, the median 24-h heat indexes of active elderly were up to 2°C higher than inactive/sedentary elderly (F = 25.479, p < 0.001). Among Kolkata slums residents, there were no significant gender differences in heat exposure during the day or night, but in the rural village, elderly women were 4 times more likely to experience dangerous heat index levels during the hottest times of the day compared to elderly men. Given the decline in thermoregulatory capacity associated with aging and the increasing severity of extreme summer heat in India, these results forecast a growing public health challenge that will require both scientific and government attention.

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