Lakes, followed by rivers, are the aquatic settings where the largest number of drownings occur for the over 50 crowd. Bathtubs, private pools and hot tubs also come into play with older victims. Seniors 65 and over account for: half of all bathtub deaths; one-quarter of all backyard pool deaths; and half of all hot tub deaths.
The potential for increased drowning among older adults and seniors will continue as more "baby boomers" move into their senior years while retaining the high risk behaviours of their younger years, despite reduced physical capabilities. Certain medical conditions and medications may affect one's physical ability or mental capacity. The "older-not-wiser" members of this group may be reticent to admit their vulnerabilities or to avoid risky behaviour. The "older-and-wiser" men may be more receptive to safety advice now than when they were younger.
In this older lifestage, there is a shift toward more fatalities during near-water activities and boating, with less in-water recreational activity involvement. Fishing, powerboating and bathing are most prevalent, followed by swimming and walking near water.
Key risk factors among older adults and seniors include:
- Most older victims in boating and other relevant situations are not wearing a lifejacket or personal flotation device (PFD) properly.
- Two-thirds of victims in this lifestage were alone when their fatal incident occurred, including bathing alone and boating alone.
- Heart disease and heart attacks have emerged as a key physical factor increasing the risk of aquatic emergencies among older victims.
- Being out in cold water situations and/or after dark.
Exploring a Hidden Epidemic: Drowning Among Adults Aged 65 Years and Older
A 2021 study analyzing 10 years of unintentional fatal drowning data from Australia, Canada and New Zealand indicates that the proportion of drowning deaths that occurred among older adults increased from 15% to 24% over the period (2005–2014). Learn more.
Drowning prevention tips
To date, the focus for reducing drowning among older adults and seniors has been to work to create safer attitudes and behaviours earlier in life that they will carry with them as they age into this life stage. Additional strategies that are especially relevant for this older life stage include:
- Boat with a buddy, never alone.
- Take care getting in and out of bathtubs. Install grab-bars designed for weight-bearing to aid entry, exit and movement in your bathtub. Have someone close enough to hear you and respond, should you have a problem.
- Be realistic about encroaching health limitations. Know your heart health through regular check-ups and don't "push the envelope" any more on, in or near the water, than you would at home.
- As you become more sensitive and less resistant to cold as you get older, take precautions to avoid exposure to the effects of cold water and hypothermia. Start by always wearing your lifejacket or PFD and by avoiding high risk cold water situations - especially not by yourself or after dark.
- Clear, hard, new ice is the only kind of ice recommended for travel. Avoid slushy ice, ice on moving water (rivers, currents), or ice that has thawed and refrozen. Wear a thermal protection buoyant suit to increase your chance of survival if you go through.