HomeDeath, grief and lossDrowning stats reveal older Aussies are most at risk

Drowning stats reveal older Aussies are most at risk

Tragedy has come to Australia’s beaches this summer. There has been a spike in the number of drownings in several states, sparking nationwide concern and grief.

This includes the loss of four members of one family, whose drowning off Victoria’s Phillip Island sparked outpourings of grief. It was the state’s worst drowning incident in nearly two decades.

As devasting as the number of lives lost this summer has been, many older Australians believe such tragedies are more likely to befall younger Aussies. But the numbers tell a different story. A newly published analysis reveals that Australians over 65 are at greatest risk.

Drowning by numbers – an analysis of tragedy

Drawing data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), Pool Advisor’s Louis Fredheim analysed drowning numbers from 2021-22. This data revealed a loss of 272 lives across Australia, as well as 515 hospital admissions.

Grouping the deaths into five age groups, Mr Fredheim found Australians over 65 had the highest rate of drowning deaths. The age group recorded 1.8 deaths per 100,000 people. The next most at-risk group was those four years and under, with a rate of 1.4 deaths per 100,000 people. Perhaps surprisingly, the lowest rate of death came in the 5-14 age group, which recorded 0.4 deaths per 100,000 people.

The three other age groups recorded relatively similar rates: 0.9 deaths per 100,00 for 15 to 24-year-olds, 1.0 for age 25 to 44 and 1.1 for 45 to 64-year-olds.

Where are Australians drowning?

Pool Advisor’s analysis found that swimming pools accounted for 39 per cent of drowning deaths for children aged 0 to 4. This compared to 12 per cent for the overall Australian population.

The analysis did not include a breakdown of the remaining locations, but a recent ABC News report has done so. The ABC analysis used figures from 1 July 2022 to 30 June 2023, a period during which there were 281 drowning deaths.

In that period, beaches accounted for 27 per cent of drownings overall, as did rivers and creeks. Oceans and harbours accounted for 10 per cent, with the remaining 36 per cent classified as ‘other’ (mostly swimming pools).

Despite the National Drowning Report showing deaths overall have decreased in the past two decades, coastal drownings have not. A recent study found the rate of coastal drownings in Australia had not changed in the 17 years since 2004.

We need to do better

This anomaly needs to be addressed, says Professor Rob Brander from the University of New South Wales’ Beach Safety Research Group. “We need to ask hard questions. Why isn’t it getting better, despite significant funding going into different areas of beach safety?”

Prof. Brander believes a disjointed approached and petty fights for funding could be to blame. Beach safety groups needed to drop egos, stop fighting for funding and collectively get their act together, he said.

“I think the federal government, for a start, needs to say, let’s have a taskforce, or whatever you want to call it,” he said. “Let’s get all the key players sitting down and say, these are the issues.”

Prof. Brander said that while it was good that coastal drowning numbers hadn’t worsened in recent years, improvement was possible. “It’s not getting worse, but it’s certainly not getting better. Why isn’t it getting better?”

That seems like a very fair question. Given the revelation relating to the over-65s, it’s a question older Aussies would want answered as soon as possible.

To ensure you are a confident swimmer, you could also book a private swimming lesson.

Are you a regular beach swimmer? Do you think more needs to be done to prevent drownings? Let us know via the comments section below.

Also read: How to stay safe during extreme weather

Health disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Andrew Gigacz
Andrew Gigaczhttps://www.patreon.com/AndrewGigacz
Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.


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