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Older adults and disasters (Chapter 6)


Frailty may be a better indicator of vulnerability than the arbitrary 65 years of age. Age doesn’t take into account gender, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, education level, and so many other factors that have an impact on vulnerability. For example, education level has stronger correlation to health than age by itself.


Older adults more affected by disasters for a number of reasons:

  • age related physiologic changes mean the elderly are generally more harmed by extreme temperatures, for example

  • more chronic disease means more needs (medications, assists to daily living, assistance from formal aid agencies and individuals

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Baker LR, Cormier LA. Disasters and vulnerable populations: Evidence-based practice for the helping professions. Springer Publishing Company; 2014 Aug 26.

  • some elderly are more affected in disasters with mental health disorders, perhaps an accumulation of losses greater than their younger counterparts

  • being poor especially compounds the vulnerabilities already present for older adults


Institutionalized adults suffer more in disasters. Not only are more needs present, but the reliance on the facility and its staff adds another layer of vulnerability more often than resilience. Though many have plans in place, most care facilities are not well-prepared for disaster response or evacuations. Sheltering in place requires many resources and staff. And emergency sheltering off-site often does not have the resources to support high needs.

The principles of personal preparedness are the same for anyone but compounded in age and especially disability.  Taking a self-inventory is helpful.

“One important recommendation for disaster planning for older adults is to make a personal assessment of one’s specific limitations that would necessitate additional assistance during a disaster.” (p. 127).  


Preparation should include:

  • plans with healthcare providers

  • support networks, emotional support, but also care organizations and individuals

  • additional home safety, such as securing bookshelves to avoid problems with evacuation and mobility.

General recommendations for health care providers to consider, by documentation and communication, include:

  • chronic disease and health needs, medications, aids for daily living

  • impairments in vision, hearing, cognition

  • needs (both psychological and physical) in rescue and evacuation

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