Recent natural disasters like Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Harvey are devastating and dangerous for all, however when calamity ensues, there are particularly vulnerable populations that are affected the most, one of those populations being seniors.
After Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, the AARP reported that 73 percent of deaths in New Orleans were among people 60 and older, despite the fact they only made up 15 percent of the city’s population (source). In 2012, The New York Times reported that close to half of those who died in Hurricane Sandy were 65 or older. Just last month, a photo of residents trapped in hurricane flood water inside a nursing home in Dickinson, TX (the residents were later rescued by emergency responders).
So what leaves seniors so vulnerable to these catastrophic hurricanes? Here are a few reasons.
There are many things to take into consideration when a hurricane is on the horizon, but of utmost importance is: Safety first and what are the consequences; you can never be too prepared for what is to come. This is most trying for seniors as it can take more time to gather supplies and get everything in order that needs to be done before a potential disaster. Access to key resources like grocery stores, pharmacies, clean water, and other emergency supplies may not be available during a crisis and are all things to be stocked up on ahead of time. Seniors who have physical and mental disabilities are required to plan further in advance than most.
2. Ability to Mobilize
Seniors who have physical disabilities or need wheelchairs or walkers to get around find themselves more vulnerable in the event of an emergency. Evacuation and gathering supplies can be particularly difficult because of the inability to drive or move quickly. Elderly that suffer from dementia or other memory loss can lead to the failure to plan ahead or respond to evacuation instructions quickly.
Power outages are among one of the most common reasons for injury and death among seniors during hurricanes. Not only can blackouts cause trips, falling down stairs, and other accidents, they can prevent elderly from being able to use medical equipment that relies on electricity such as dialysis.
3. Psychological Distress
The anticipation of a natural disaster is frightening and can cause anxiety and panic. Common among seniors is that evacuation could mean the loss of their home, meaning they will need to be sent to a nursing home or other care facility. Many elderly who live independently simply do not want to leave their possessions or their households that they hold so dear.
While a hurricane may last only a day or two, the psychological impact can last much longer. Sometimes elderly experience traumatic and abrupt changes in mental status in the form of dementia and confusion caused by stress or change in routine. They should seek medical help immediately.
If devastation has occurred in the aftermath of the storm, seniors may require extra support to cope with their trauma or losses. Many communities offer counseling services and relief efforts specifically for seniors.
A Hurricane is threatening to all those who stand in its way, and seniors are no exception. It’s important to note the common ways hurricanes affect seniors so that you and your loved one can be sufficiently prepared when disaster strikes. The resources below provide additional information and tips on how you can plan for the next Harvey or Irma.