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Helping the aged during natural disasters
Date:6/3/2011

When earthquake, tsunami, tornado or flood strike, among the most vulnerable group are the elderly. Writing in the International Journal of Emergency Management, researchers in New Zealand suggest that emergency response plans must take into account the age-related needs of adults with regards to the personal and social resources they have available.

Robyn Tuohy and Christine Stephens of Massey University in Palmerston North, point out that elderly citizens are likely to experience the negative impacts of floods and other natural disasters partly because of age-related disabilities but also because of social circumstances, such as isolation. The team has explored the issues surrounding such vulnerability based on case studies of older adults who experienced a flood disaster and compared those experiences among those living in a rest home or independently in the community.

Vulnerability is defined as the ability of a person or group to pre-empt, cope with and recover from a natural disaster, the team explains, determining who is most at risk should ensure better outcomes. Previous studies have suggested that vulnerability is affected by class, gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status (SES) and age, it is also determined to some extent by the type of disaster that occurs. Tuohy and Stephens add that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has identified older adults as a vulnerable population who are more likely to experience greater risks and adversity than others in any disaster.

The implications are supported by recent evidence. For instance, research following Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in 2005, revealed disproportionately poorer outcomes for older adults compared to other population groups, the Indonesian tsunami of 2004 saw the highest death rates among the over-sixties; deaths during the 2003 Paris heat wave killed more people over 70 years than any other group; and more than half of all casualties in the
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Contact: Robyn Tuohy
robyn.tuohy.1@uni.Massey.ac.nz
Inderscience Publishers
Source:Eurekalert

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