Older adults struggling to cope with the challenges posed by Superstorm Sandy will likely suffer the greatest hardships in the days ahead, according to a new analysis of data from other recent natural disasters.
Three-quarters of those who died during and after Hurricane Katrina were over the age of 60, according to a 2006 edition of Public Policy & Aging Report from The Gerontological Society of America (GSA). And a recent issue of the Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences reported that the May 2008 earthquake in Wenchuan, China, led to a twofold increase in the one-year mortality among a group of residents in their 90s that lived nearby.
"Right now, most people who are responding to the hurricane are not trained in the needs of older adults," said Lisa M. Brown, an associate professor at the University of South Florida. "Likewise, very few geriatricians and gerontologists are trained in disaster preparedness, response, and recovery."
Brown will help chair a GSA meeting next week in San Diego that will focus on the social, mental, and physical health concerns of older adults at all stages of a natural disaster and examine the critical role of gerontologists in shaping public health preparedness and responsiveness to disasters.
The meeting will also identify why older adults are unusually vulnerable, relative to children and younger adults, during catastrophic events.
"We don't have continuity in the disaster infrastructure for older adults. Our efforts tend to be more reactive post-disaster than proactive pre-disaster," Brown said. "More research in this area will result in targeted policies and refined programs that would enhance existing systems of care."
The Public Policy & Aging Report called for greater efforts to use multi-tiered evacuation plans, pre-existing social networks, and "go-kits" to assist elders during and after a disaster. These kits may include contact information for family members, healthcare providers, high-nutrient foods, and a week's supply of all prescription and over-the-counter medications.
The American Red Cross, at www.redcross.org, is accepting donations to aid the victims of Hurricane Sandy, and encouraging individuals to give blood due to a high number of blood drives that were cancelled by the inclement weather.