New research has found that older adults are more vulnerable and experience more casualties after natural disasters compared to other age groups.
Based on a review of the latest evidence and legislation on disaster preparedness, response and recovery for older adults, the report was produced by members of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council and the American Academy of Nursing Policy Expert Round Table on Emergency/Disaster Preparedness for Older Adults.
Being prepared for disasters is important for people of all ages. But, there are several factors that make older adults more vulnerable, including:
- A greater prevalence of chronic conditions, multi-morbidity, cognitive impairment and medication concerns during disasters.
- A greater dependence on assistive devices (i.e. walkers, glasses) and support requirements, from caregivers and others, during disasters.
- Likelihood of social isolation.
- Potential for psychological distress.
- Gaps in how prepared the caregivers of older persons are, especially those who care for older adults with dementia.
The research also identifies strategies and resources to improve both disaster preparedness among older adults and response efforts. A clear need exists for greater disaster preparedness and response education, and the standardization of protocols for health care professionals and emergency responders.
To help address these gaps, the report includes evidence-informed expert recommendations such as:
- Older adults and their unpaid caregivers need tailored, easy-to-access information related to disaster preparedness and guidance on how to develop custom emergency plans. Access to these programs should also be increased.
- Older adults who are reliant on mobility aids should remove or minimize barriers affecting their ability to evacuate and should take steps to ensure their safety within their surroundings.
- Programs that provide essential community services and assistance with daily living activities for older people (financial, medical, personal care, food and transportation) should develop plans and protocols related to responding adequately to the needs of their clients during emergencies and disasters.
- Local governments should leverage data sources, such as registries, that identify at-risk individuals to enable emergency responders to more easily prioritize their search and rescue efforts following an emergency.
- Healthcare professionals and emergency response personnel should receive training on providing geriatric care relevant to their discipline and how best to assist both older adults and their unpaid caregivers during disasters.
The report and its recommendations have been endorsed by both the American Red Cross and the American Academy of Nursing. As a result of the report findings, the Red Cross will update its resources for older adults, people with aging family members and caretakers.
The co-chairs of this research project were Samir K. Sinha MD, DPhil, FRCPC, AGSF (member of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council; Director of Geriatrics at Sinai Health System and University Health Network, Toronto, Ontario; Assistant Professor in the Department of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine; Associate Professor in the Departments of Medicine, Family and Community Medicine and the Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation at the University of Toronto, Ontario) and Wanda Raby Spurlock, DNS, RN-BC, CNE, FNGNA, ANEF, FAAN (member of the American Academy of Nursing’s Aging Expert Panel and Emergency/Disaster Preparedness Sub-Committee; Professor at the College of Nursing and Allied Health, Southern University and A&M College, Baton Rouge, Louisiana). Nicoda Foster MPH, PhD(c) (member of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council; Office of the Director of Geriatrics at Sinai Health System and the University Health Network Toronto, Ontario) served as project manager.