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19 May 2021

Managing the Risk of Older Australians in Aquatic Facilities

Risk and Safety
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Defining Older Australians

Although the World Health Organisation (WHO) defines ‘older age’ or ‘elderly’ as being aged 65 years and over, Royal Life Saving employs a slightly broader definition to capture those aged 55 years and over. This expanded definition was employed due to the concerning large number of drowning deaths occurring among those aged 55 years and over.

The WHO Heidelberg Guidelines (1997) identify three groups of older people along the health-fitness gradient: the physically fit-healthy; the physically unfit-unhealthy but independent living; and the physically unfit-unhealthy and dependent individuals. Within each of these categories, people may be either sedentary or physically active.

Key Risk Factors

Older Australians (that is those aged 55 years and over) make up a significant proportion of the total number of drowning deaths that occur in Australia every year. On average, 87 people aged 55 years and over have drowned in Australia every year for the past 10 years.

  • Reduced physical ability and increased mobility limitations

  • Reduced fitness, and swimming and water safety skills

  • Pre-existing medical conditions and medications

  • Swimming or recreating alone

  • Overestimation of skill and underestimation of risk

  • Alcohol consumption

Risk Management Strategies

From these simple observations, it becomes apparent that factors contributing to the drowning death of older Australian has many diverse contributing factors and requires an aquatic facility to implement a broad ranging program to deal with them. The following lists some key things aquatic facilities could look at implementing.

  • Encourage older people to notify staff at the entrance if they have any pre-existing medical conditions, or consume any medications that may increase their risk of injury.

  • Consider the use of older people as instructors for any courses aimed at older people

  • Have staff complete the Royal Life Saving Older Australians Online Learning Program

  • Embrace the Royal Life Saving Swim Ready Campaign to assist in awareness and education of Medical Conditions

  • Introduce Participation Programs specific for Ageing Communities

  • Increase supervision at times of when Older Persons frequent the facility more often

  • Change the temperature of the water

  • Visit the Royal Life Saving Shop and purchase a Defibrillator

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