UI report: Many older Americans ill prepared for natural disasters

About half of the adults who responded said they would not know where to seek shelter

Vanessa Miller
Published: March 25 2014 | 4:55 pm - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 10:09 am in

Older Americans are more vulnerable when natural disasters strike, yet most of them are not adequately prepared for serious floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, fires or other calamities.

Those are among the findings researchers with the University of Iowa College of Public Health recently published online in the American Journal of Public Health. The findings are based on a 2010 survey conducted in conjunction with the Health and Retirement Study, which tracks social, economic and health information for U.S. adults age 50 and older.

Of the 1,304 adults interviewed, about one-third said they had read information or participated in an educational program on how to prepare for a disaster, according to University News Services. Fewer than 25 percent reported having an emergency plan in place, even though a quarter of them said they lived alone and one-third reported being disabled or in fair to poor health, according to the study.

About half of the adults who responded to the survey said they would not know where to seek shelter if they were forced to evacuate their home. And about a quarter said they didn’t have access to transportation during emergencies, according to UI news.

About 15 percent said they used an electric medical device that could fail during power outages, and low-income respondents were more likely to report not being prepared.

The average age of the study’s respondents was just more than 70 years, and most – 82 percent – were white. The survey didn’t include individuals living in nursing homes or institutional settings.

Tala Al-Rousan, a graduate student in epidemiology at the UI College of Public Health, was the study’s primary author, working with UI professor Robert Wallace, director of the UI’s Center on Aging, and Linda M. Rubenstein, UI statistician in epidemiology.

Al-Rousan said the study had some limitations, in that it probably is not completely inclusive of all population types.

“In addition,” she said in a news release, “the study did not examine where the adults live, and it’s possible that they might reside in areas that are not greatly affected by natural disasters.”

Still, in the report, the researchers noted that nearly three-quarters of the lives lost during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 were age 60 and older. And, with severe weather season approaching in a country with an increasing older population, Al-Rousan said it’s important to understand why those individuals aren’t getting prepared.

“Our study outlines the problem,” she said in a news release. “Other studies are needed to get at the causes and find solutions.”

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