Why are older Australians more likely to drown?

It’s easy to think of drowning as a danger to the young, the inexperienced and the untrained. The children unable to swim; the young adults who might be prone to wilder behaviour.

Few of us stop to think that we could be among those most at risk.

In the last 13 years, 917 people over 60 have drowned in Australian waterways. A staggering three quarters of these deaths were older men.

So what, exactly, is putting us in so much danger? And how many of these deaths could have been avoided with greater precaution and awareness?

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In 58% of cases, an underlying medical condition was identified. It can be as drastic as cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack or stroke. Sometimes it’s the simple reality that we get frailer over time.

In 27% of cases, drugs (particularly prescription medications) were known to be involved; an extremely powerful wake-up call for those yet to discuss side effects with a doctor.

Alcohol is another sadly common factor – and far riskier when combined with certain medications, such as those that can cause sedation (like sleeping tablets and some antidepressants).

But all too often, the cause is hidden and unpredictable. Rivers have claimed the largest number of older swimmers, thanks in large part to hidden dangers such as slippery banks, strong currents or submerged branches.

Other major risk factors include:

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  • Unexpected falls into water (accounting for an alarming 20% of deaths)
  • Swimming alone in secluded areas, including at unpatrolled beaches, outside the flags or outside patrol times
  • Not wearing a life jacket when required
  • A lack of precaution when fishing or boating (such as not checking weather or informing others of your plans)

While it’s easy to educate yourself individually, convincing a loved one can be substantially more difficult.

This presents a very sensitive issue for the many women in the Starts at 60 community with partners who swim, boat or fish. How can we ask a grown man to be careful without sounding patronising?

Thankfully, there are tried and tested ways to get the message across.

Starts at 60 have partnered with the Royal Life Saving Society to help make this important conversation easier. Click here for some helpful tips on how to have “The Talk” with a loved one.


This post is sponsored by the Royal Life Saving Society and written independently by Starts at 60. For more information on how to avoid age-related drowning, please visit the Royal Life Saving website.