In a time when it seems, there is a natural disaster occurring nearly every day globally Gerontologists think about the devastating impact on older adults. It is less visible the extreme implications these events have on our aging population. Over half the people who died in Hurricane Katrina were age 65 and older. The Cornell Aging and Environment Initiative in New York was one of the first of its caliber to examine climate and aging. Older adults are typically more vulnerable during natural disasters due to chronic disease and decreased mobility. Research has also shown they are more likely to live in areas that are vulnerable to storm damage. In cases where older adults died, they were trapped in their homes or chronic diseases were worsened with the impact of the disaster.
The risk of death for isolated older adults is enormous! Older adults who smoke are less likely to die than older adults that are isolated. As social networks dwindle, spouses pass away older adults who are experiencing limitations in activities of daily living, are especially vulnerable. Often, social isolation is due to personal preference. Loneliness is of great importance when we discuss aging. As men and women age, those who experience loneliness are more likely to physically and mentally decline. One of the best ways we can understand social support within families is to examine the influence of culture. Culture has a tremendous impact on family ties. The patterns and arrangements of individuals throughout the lifespan are dependent on gender, race, class, ethnicity, age, and sexual orientation. We confer family relationships within the framework of social structures that are instilled with cultural views of an ideal family and an ideal old age.
Older adults prefer to seek assistance from a few close people rather than strangers. They also tend to gravitate towards their peers for support rather than younger counterparts. Many older adults do not follow evacuation orders. They tend to want to stay with their property. Seeking assistance is often experienced as a threat to their independence.
So how can we change this? The topic has to be addressed with dignity and respect. We cannot threaten this demographic’s independence. We must work together to find agreed-upon solutions. The first step is planning ahead. Introducing assistance, however little it may be is a great way to build a strong rapport between an older adult and a caregiver who can combat isolation and provide support. Through seeking the help of a home care agency, clients can retain the assistance of skilled professionals that are experts at creating disaster plans specifically for the aging population. Having a plan in place dramatically reduces the risk of death when an emergency arises.