Tornados, floods, fires, and hurricanes are more harmful to older adults than the rest of the population, researchers say.
The University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing followed 17 long-term care residents with an average age of 86 who were evacuated for five days and moved to different facilities following a severe storm.
The study, published recently in the Journal of Gerontological Nursing, found more than half had physical and mental problems during and after the evacuation. Two of the study participants were hospitalized and one died.
"Older adults often have visual and hearing deficits, making it more difficult to interpret their environments and precipitating increased stress," said Dr. Pamela Cacchione, the study’s lead author. “This stress can also exacerbate chronic illnesses, further precipitating delirium."
Still, efforts can be made to minimize the harm to the elderly during disasters. Dr. Cacchione recommends that health care providers pay attention to basic physical care, including ongoing assessment of chronic conditions, and she advises the quick return of patients to familiar surroundings – including the return of valued objects -- after an evacuation or relocation.