The first of its kind in Australia, a dramatic research report released by Royal Life Saving has highlighted the significant and growing issue of drowning in older people in Australia.
The report, titled Drowning Deaths in Older People: A 10 year analysis of drowning in people aged 50 years and over in Australia, found that 1,072 people aged 50 years and over have drowned in Australian waterways between 2002 and 2012. This represents 36% of all drowning deaths during this period.
Older men are three times more likely to drown than women, and alcohol was known to be involved in 37% of all drowning deaths among older people.
In 61% of alcohol-related drownings, the victim recorded a Blood Alcohol Content equal to or above 0.05mg/L.
Accidental falls into water accounted for a further 18% of drowning deaths among older people.
Inland waterways such as rivers, creeks, lakes and dams accounted for the largest proportion of drowning deaths among older people in the study at 35%. Although these locations appear flat and calm, rivers, lakes and dams are deceptively dangerous.
Royal Life Saving Society Australia CEO Justin Scarr said: “Preventing drowning deaths in older people in Australian rivers, creeks and streams will form an important component of Royal Life Saving’s drowning prevention work with communities along the country’s top 10 river drowning black spots.”
Mr Scarr said losing a parent or grandparent to drowning can be just as tragic as losing a child.
“Similar efforts that were successful in reducing child drowning must now be applied to stop drowning in people over the age of 55 years,” he said.
Underlying medical conditions such as cardiac conditions, epilepsy and dementia are known to increase drowning risk, which is further compounded by the mixing of alcohol with prescribed medications.
“The data around drowning deaths among older people and the involvement of alcohol is concerning to Royal Life Saving, as we would hope this is an age group that would be better informed and avoid behaviours that can increase their risk of drowning. Combine a couple of drinks with prescription medication or an underlying medical condition and unfortunately the outcome can prove fatal,” Mr Scarr said.
In releasing this report, Royal Life Saving today is also launching a new campaign titled ‘The Talk’, which encourages people to talk to their parents and grandparents about how to reduce their risk of drowning through some simple safety measures.
Mr Scarr said: “For many years Royal Life Saving has been urging people to consider the safety of children around water, but what this research shows is that increasingly families should be concerned about preventing drowning in those over the age of 55 years”.
The Talk aims to encourage people to talk to their parents and loved ones aged 55 years and over about how to reduce their risk of drowning through some simple safety measures.
- Know their limitations
- Be aware of medical conditions
- Avoid alcohol around water
- Wear a lifejacket
- Learn lifesaving skills
With older people, particularly the baby boomers now more likely to engage in aquatic activities such as swimming and boating, they are encouraged to check they are fit for swimming by undergoing a medical check-up before participating in aquatic activities and understanding the impacts of medical conditions and medication on their ability to safely enjoy the water.
For more information on water safety and drowning prevention strategies, head to www.royallifesaving.com.au/thetalk.