Drowning deaths among older Australians on the rise

We tell you what you need to do to stay safe in the water.

Why are more older Australians drowning?

Almost 300 people drowned in Australia in the 12 months between July 2016 and June 2017.

Of the 291 deaths, 70 of them were people aged 65 and older? That’s nearly 25 per cent of the total.

Studies by the Royal Life Saving Society highlight the need to raise awareness among older Australians of the dangers of aquatic activities when combined with pre-existing medical conditions and, possibly, a reduced level of physical fitness.

The studies note that some older people have a poor understanding of current water safety techniques and preventative actions.

What the statistics say:

  • The 2016-17 figures represent a 27 per cent increase when measured against the 10-year average of 55 drowning deaths among older Australians. It was a 21 per cent increase on the 58 drowning deaths among older people reported in 2015/2016.
  • Overall drowning deaths in swimming pools in 2016/2017 were twice the 10-year average. The next most dangerous places were beaches and ocean/harbour locations, with 11 deaths recorded per place.
  • Boating accidents accounted for 17 per cent of deaths.  

Experts from the Royal Life Saving Society and James Cook University conducted a study in March 2017 and found that chronic illness in older Australians was a major contributor to drowning deaths. Across the study period, 69 per cent of older people who drowned had a pre-existing medical condition that may have contributed to their deaths.

So what do you need to know to ensure you stay safe around water?

The RLSS advises older people to test their skills in controlled environments such as public swimming pools before heading to open water locations such as beaches and rivers.

It also encourages older people to participate in Adult Learn to Swim or Royal Life Saving Grey Medallion programs so they can revise and update vital water, swimming and safety skills.

And it is essential that people aged 65 years and over undergo regular medical check-ups so they have a broader understanding of their ability in and around water.

Do you swim regularly? Would you swim at the beach? When was the last time you had a swimming lesson?



    To make a comment, please register or login
    1st Jan 2018
    If your study group is 65 or older, one year later that group will have increased in size because there are probably more people turning 65 than are dying.

    But for those who want to die with their flippers on, it is probably an alternative to Victoria's assisted dying laws.
    1st Jan 2018
    I wouldn't read a lot into this 'story'. The over 65 cohort has been growing for years and one year doth not a statistic make. This is what is lost by authors who do not understand how statistics work.
    If you want to have a look at a high risk group then have a look at Asian rock fishermen. Frightening. Asians for the most part cannot swim and there lies a story. The other end is about very young children and backyard swimming pools. Most of what is in between is BS. Sorry.
    1st Jan 2018
    Except,Charlie, someone might die trying to save them. Then of course floaters are not very pretty so its probably best not to traumatize our service personnel anymore than necessary.
    1st Jan 2018
    They use drones now to drop them a flotation device and a jet ski to pick them up.
    If a person just dies in the water without waving to life guards, maybe authorities should determine cause of death.
    Only a week ago we were looking at stats for the increased risk of dying while having sex. There comes a time in life where some people would rather go for a swim.
    ex PS
    2nd Jan 2018
    The penny just dropped, maybe this is why we see so many more elderly people having driving accidents, it is not age that is the factor but numbers. If the younger population is declining as a percentage of population, and the elder population is growing, it makes sense that statistics will be skewed to indicate a problem disproportionately.
    Got to love stats. You can prove just about anything you like with them.
    2nd Jan 2018
    Ex Ps you want to have a look at the driver accident stats. The elderly aren't having more accidents. Its just media hype to get attention and target a group rather than the individual bad driver.
    As is the case with this article. Its not age that kills in drowning accidents its those who do feats beyond their ability - no matter what age.
    ex PS
    3rd Jan 2018
    Yes Rosret, the old maxim, never let the truth get in the way of a good story, or should I say sensational headline.
    1st Jan 2018
    I used to enjoy swimming in the ocean but since I had knee surgery even paddling to my mid calf terrifies me and I know many others with a similar feelings. Balancing becomes harder even on solid ground, but in the sea there is no such thing, even a small wave can knock you over. Never swim alone either.
    1st Jan 2018
    Well the NSW Gov wants to get older drivers of the roads because of perceived safety issues. Recently a Star Track cowboy truck driver sideswiped my 6 month pregnant daughter and forced her of the road and the company is refusing to assist police in their enquiries. A Star Track cowboy truck driver also nearly killed my brother on a motor bike when cutting a corner. And they say older drivers are dangerous. Next older people will be banned from beaches.
    1st Jan 2018
    I avoid swimming period! Why? Because it's such a hassle getting dried and dressed again that it negates all the benefits experienced by 'water therapy'. However, as disability continues to encroach on my abilities, I would not bring all people my age into the same category. "Over 65's" is a common statement for "experts" to lump everyone in the same category, whether it's driving, walking or just breathing. I'm so over 'experts'.... Happy New Year
    1st Jan 2018
    Having been out of the surf for perhaps 20 years I recently became acutely aware that I couldn't do what I used to be capable of doing, and I'd be foolish to try. When swimming in the ocean when ageing, it's wise to park our egos on the beach and be aware of our limitations. Possibly we lost a PM years ago because of his lack of awareness of reduced abilities when ageing!
    1st Jan 2018
    At tourist time the streets fronting the ocean foreshore are predominantly B and B. So instead of walking down to the patrolled area they pass the novel on a sign that precludes the council of any blame. Basically it says this beach is dangerous - and it is - very!
    It just happens to be my dog beach. As they risk their lives at monotonous regularity I mentally plan what to do when they get into trouble. Its a good km to either the board riders at one end or the flags at the other.
    Sometimes I sound like mother hen and warn the parents sun baking on the beach that their kids are in danger. Most times I get a frown and that look of mind your own business.
    When it gets too much for me I actually choose not to take the dog to that section of beach because I know I couldn't save them.
    I hate signs but I really feel like putting one up right at the waters edge that reads, "NOT HERE IDIOT!"
    1st Jan 2018
    There is no legislating for stupidity - at any age!

    1st Jan 2018
    A lot of this phenomenon is connected with the growing number of Asians, Indians and Muslims infesting this country. Many of them have never learned to swim.
    1st Jan 2018
    Infesting is a loaded word, Knows-a-lot (!) Or are all migrants pests? In which case, unless you're Aboriginal, you have no more right to be here than anyone else. If it's true that these people are the ones who are drowning, then it's important to teach them beach safety. Otherwise, it would be nice if you'd keep such racism off these pages, please.
    2nd Jan 2018
    Actually, no it isn't. Its our 19 year old males who take risks who have the highest stats. Most new immigrants know their limitations. Of course there are exceptions and we have had some awful tragedies around my area. Even our fenced areas weren't enough to stop a family climbing over the rocks only to meet with immense loss of life.
    Jackiet I don't think Knows-a-lot's comment is racist at all.
    They are not aware of the dangers. Bondi beach is not a safe beach however the number of people happily swimming there would make a tourist think it is in fact a safe beach.
    We have been taught and warned about rips, undercurrents, submerged tree branches in creeks etc all our lives and many a story has been passed down through the generations. Our new immigrants may never have lived anywhere near the ocean before.
    ex PS
    2nd Jan 2018
    No not until he chose to use the term "infested", Rosret, he could have used many other terms, but chose to use that one, it may be innate, but it is a negative term in this instance.

    Maybe you can tell me of an instance where the term infested, has a positive connotation? The term Infestation should be limited to cockroaches, rats, lice, fleas and politicians in my book.
    2nd Jan 2018
    True ex PS. I did skim over that word. You and Jackiet are both correct. Inappropriate.
    2nd Jan 2018
    I DO mean infested. Immigrants are ruining the quality of life in Australia - particularly the three groups I mentioned. If I were running the show, I'd stop ALL immigration immediately and begin deportations.

    "In which case, unless you're Aboriginal, you have no more right to be here than anyone else."

    I do, actually. It's my forebears and I - Anglo-Celtic Australians - who built modern Australia. The Aboriginals (who, by the way, were NOT the 'first Australians' [check out Lake Mungo Man]) did nothing to bring modernity to this place. Left to their own devices, they'd still be a late Neolithic culture.
    2nd Jan 2018
    PS @ Jackiet. Islam/Muslim is NOT a race. But it is a problem.
    ex PS
    3rd Jan 2018
    Decent coffee, Greek, Asian, Italian , Turkish food, the building of the largest Hydro Electric Scheme in the world at the time. Bloody immigrants, they have ruined this country. Every group of immigrants who have come to this country have improved it in their own way, even the ones who came out as criminals.
    Immigrants by your own admission built this nation and the ones coming in from from newer countries will help develop it further.
    3rd Jan 2018
    "Every group of immigrants who have come to this country have improved it in their own way".

    Rubbish! And certainly NOT Muslims. The first act of terrorism in Australia, The Battle of Broken Hill, was committed by Muslim camel-drivers during World War I. Food contributions? Big deal! The ones you mention are all terribly fattening and bad for you.

    "Immigrants by your own admission built this nation"

    ONLY the Anglo-Celtic Australians. NB: Even the Aborigines were immigrants (second- or third-wave).
    ex PS
    4th Jan 2018
    So not one immigrant from a Muslim background has done one positive thing for this country. Do you actually read what you are writing?
    Does it even make sense to you?
    I suppose you think roast beef and yorkshire pudding are the ideal health food that will put us all on to a healthy lifestyle.
    4th Jan 2018
    "So not one immigrant from a Muslim background has done one positive thing for this country."

    If you say so, then it must be true.

    " Do you actually read what you are writing?"

    Yes, I do - very carefully and thoughtfully.

    "Does it even make sense to you?"

    Of course it does.

    "I suppose you think roast beef and yorkshire pudding are the ideal health food that will put us all on to a healthy lifestyle."

    If you think that is the sum total of the Anglo-Australian diet, then you are woefully ignorant.
    Nan Norma
    1st Jan 2018
    I don't go to the beach but I do go to the pool every week and highly recommend it.

    1st Jan 2018
    I hold a surf bronze which I achieved over 50 years ago. Back then I was a very competent swimmer and could handle most surf conditions. Today, I am well aware of my limitations and I am very wary of venturing into the surf. One set of articles which saddens me is when a senior person dives into the surf to try and save some kids caught in a rip and then loses his/her life. Sure, they are a statistic but they also show a bravery that should be applauded.
    ex PS
    2nd Jan 2018
    I always admire those who have an affinity with water Old Man, I could never become proficient enough to become comfortable in the water, so I tend to avoid the surf and fast water of any kind.
    Any one willing to put their life on the line to help others should be applauded, without reservation.
    2nd Jan 2018
    More over 65's are likely to die in accidental death, because there are more over 65's out there. This is because of the post war baby boom.

    Also when it comes to road accidents, a person over 65 is more likely to die whether they are driving or just a passenger, because their health is in decline, whereas a younger person is more likely to survive. So the stats that associate older people with fatal accidents, are not evidence of old people being bad drivers.
    Old Geezer
    2nd Jan 2018
    Living in an area not far from the beach where a lot of retired people live it is not unusual to find someone's clothes and shoes neatly piled on the beach and left there for days until someone realises they are not coming back to claim them. The sad part about this is that we are no giving these people the means to die with dignity and not be a burden on society so they die alone usually after dark in the cold ocean. How many of these are included in the statistics as their bodies are rarely found and their death is recorded as presumed drowned?

    2nd Jan 2018
    Good to see so many in their 60's and above enjoying their swimming

    WHats a few drownings here or there
    2nd Jan 2018
    Has anyone considered that suicide may be a factor? Thee way the government treats older Australians, along with the myths surrounding drowning, could lead to that option. Just a thought.
    2nd Jan 2018
    If its suicide, then they may have mental issues. Why blame the government
    ex PS
    3rd Jan 2018
    Maybe because even if the government did not cause those issues, and that is being generous, they don't do enough to identify and deal with them.
    3rd Jan 2018
    oh dear - the resident communist has spoken.
    nothing the government does is enough, lets borrow and spend more
    Happy now ex PS ?
    ex PS
    4th Jan 2018
    Exceedingly so Raphael, I have been promoted from Lefty to communist. Keep contributing, the party may send me a medal for my contribution to the cause. Of course since I did not mention which government I was eluding to, I might get two medals.
    4th Jan 2018
    Water therapy is good forolder people Many older folk that I know swim regularly in swimming pools, Many older people do not know how to swim owing to limited learning unlike children of today who are taught to swim through school and vac swim. I do no swim and will not swim for fear of water and sharks. For the record my daughter and her friends decline to swim at the beach for fear of sharks and rarely use pools that they have access to, For older folk it boils down to health issues. Older folk should be encouraged to take up swimming lessons in all states and make lessons affordable. They should also have free driving lessons to refresh skills as the road rules change all the time.

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