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Assessing the Neuropsychological Benefits of Weatherization Programs

The homes of millions of older Americans do not provide adequate protection from extreme temperatures, due in large part to ‘energy poverty.’ Modifications to homes that increase energy efficiency and improve indoor temperatures may reduce the adverse neuropsychological health impacts of extreme temperatures.

Indoor temperatures may impact sleep quality and short-term cognitive function, and high utility bills may exacerbate the psychosocial stress of financial worry. Some of the health benefits of weatherization include reductions in emergency department visits related to asthma. We propose to evaluate the health and financial impacts of low-cost and higher-cost weatherization programs, considering the novel or under-studied outcomes of financial worry, cognitive function, and sleep quality and duration. We propose to enroll three categories of participants: those of a low-cost weatherization program in a cold climate (Detroit, MI), those of a high-cost weatherization program in a cold climate (Madison, WI), and those of a high- cost weatherization program in a warm climate (Memphis, TN).

In a longitudinal study with multiple surveys and sub-hourly indoor temperature and humidity monitoring per person over one year of participation, we will characterize  the associations of indoor temperatures with cognitive function and sleep quality/ duration and the associations of low- and high-cost weatherization programs with indoor environmental parameters (temperature, humidity) and financial worry. We will also characterize the monetized health impacts of low- and high-cost weatherization programs in terms of both community-wide air pollution benefits (related to reduced energy consumption) and recipient-specific health. This research will advance our long-term objectives of reducing the health impacts of extreme weather, characterizing the health impacts of the home environment, and reducing disparities in the health impacts of energy generation and use. Our results will inform policies for energy efficiency and weatherization subsidies, considering that medical savings from expenditures on housing upgrades would potentially reduce state- or federally-subsidized healthcare expenditures. Such interventions may improve the health of older adults via improvements to indoor temperatures and reductions in utility costs and help households both mitigate (through decreased energy usage) and adapt to extreme weather.