Australians aged 45 years and over are being encouraged to consult their doctor before enjoying the health benefits of swimming to prevent drowning deaths involving people with pre-existing conditions.
Royal Life Saving New South Wales (NSW) together with the NSW Government has launched a Swim Ready initiative to educate and raise awareness among people aged over 45 years about the link between the use of medication and an increased risk of drowning.
Over the past 17 years, 843 people aged 45 years and over lost their lives to drowning in NSW. Of these, 55% involved people with pre-existing conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, mental health and dementia.
All medication has possible side effects that can have an impact on exercise. This can put people at higher risk of drowning when participating in aquatic activities. For example, dizziness, fainting, chest pain, headaches, confusion, blurred vision and muscle pain, can all affect a person’s capacity to stay safe in water.
Drowning data from 2008/09 to 2017/18 suggests that, for unintentional fatal drownings in older people, an estimated 36% were taking some form of medication or drug. Of these, 65% of drownings involved multiple drugs.
“More and more Australians are enjoying the health benefits of swimming later in life. Our Swim Ready initiative highlights our commitment to encouraging active lifestyles while ensuring everyone stays safe while they are in the water.” Michael Ilinsky, Chief Executive Officer, Royal Life Saving NSW.
Office of Sport Acting chief executive officer Karen Jones said swimming was a fantastic activity for people of all ages but insisted everyone is Swim Ready.
“I encourage everyone to swim in a safe and responsible manner, and enjoy the health benefits that it brings,” Ms Jones said. “Swimming should be done in consideration of any pre-existing health conditions that can create a drowning risk.”
As people age, changes occur in the way their bodies process medications, and the benefit/risk profile of a medication can change.
Chronic medical conditions are more common in ageing populations which means older people are more likely to be prescribed several medications. Multiple drug interactions can be complex and can increase the incidence of side effects in older individuals, which can increase the risk of drowning in this group.