Older Adults Disproportionately Impacted by Hurricanes and Natural Disasters

America is getting older, and the impact on older adults can be even more devastating when disaster strikes. Many older people need help with routine living activities but that can be problematic during an emergency.

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Older Adults Disproportionately Impacted by Hurricanes and Natural Disasters
3 Min Read October 2nd, 2022

Hurricane Ian has highlighted the dangers natural disasters can have, but these natural disasters can be even more dangerous for older people. By 2034, the U.S. Census Bureau projects that for the first time in history, the population of adults 65 and over would surpass that of individuals under 18. 

Aging is happening globally, but when you think of Florida, you think of retired folks moving to the sunshine. Florida has the highest percentage of senior citizens (21%) of any state in the country. It should be no surprise that many of the deaths attributed to Hurricane Ian in Florida have been seniors. 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator, Deanne Criswell, says that planning requires that the needs of all populations be considered to ensure our older communities are more resilient in the face of hurricanes and other natural disasters.

Deanne Criswell

Adults aged 65 and older are a growing demographic who are often disproportionately impacted by severe weather. These disparities can be compounded by other factors, such as low income or chronic illness, producing inequitable results for this vulnerable population when it comes to disaster preparedness.

State and Local Officials Need to Be Prepared to Help Older People

Nancy LeaMond, Executive Vice President and Chief Advocacy & Engagement Officer at AARP, says that state and local leaders and emergency officials must be better equipped and prepared to ensure that older adults are kept safe, and their needs are met when a disaster strikes.

By 2034, adults ages 65 and over will outnumber those under 18 in the United States for the first time. This has profound implications during natural disasters and extreme weather events.

A rising body of research demonstrates that the types of weather-related events and natural disasters disproportionately negatively impact older adults. The impact that COVID-19 had on older persons serves as a reminder that people with chronic illnesses, functional limitations, or disabilities are particularly vulnerable. 

In addition to having a higher mortality rate from infectious diseases and natural disasters, older people frequently suffer long-term ramifications that negatively impact their physical and mental health, financial security, and general well-being.

Many Older Adults Receive Long-Term Health Care – Needs Don’t Go Away in an Emergency

Many older adults also require help with daily living activities or require supervision due to dementia. Many of these individuals are being helped at home by informal family caregivers. Others receive professional in-home care, or receive care in adult day care centers, assisted living and memory care facilities, as well as traditional nursing homes. 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Simone Marstiller, Florida's Secretary, Agency for Health Care Administration, said 100% of the state's operating long-term care facilities have operating generators. Over 7000 residents were evacuated ahead of the storm.

Many of these older adults have been moved by families and are now receiving care elsewhere out of danger. Those with Long-Term Care Insurance will continue to receive benefits even if they have been moved out of state. 

Accessibility is a consideration. According to FEMA, many elderly persons might not be able to drive or have access to dependable public transportation. Additionally, they can be dependent on home medical equipment with unique needs, which makes evacuations difficult.

Natural Hazards Uniquely Affect Older Adults

The "Guide to Expanding Mitigation: Making the Connection to Older Adults," released by FEMA and AARP, highlights how natural hazards uniquely affect older adults and provides recommendations for how emergency managers, planners, local officials, and community members can include older adults in community efforts to lower their risks. The AARP Disaster Resilience Tool Kit features strategies to help local, state, and community leaders and advocates reduce the risk and impacts of disasters on older adults.

The guide and toolkit are the outcome of an extended partnership between AARP and FEMA to help organizations effectively engage senior citizens in disaster mitigation, readiness, response, and recovery efforts. This long-term, strategic partnership strives to promote livable, safe communities for all ages.

Expanded disaster mitigation planning can help prevent the loss of life and property by lessening the effect of disasters before they occur, even though many communities provide older persons with assistance in disaster preparation. All residents can gain from mitigation measures and tactics that make cities, towns, and communities safer for senior citizens while also boosting overall community resilience.

Hurricanes are not the only concern. Be it earthquakes, fires, floods, tornadoes, and even another virus crisis, older adults have special concerns that need to be planned for ahead of time by both families and government. 

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Editor's Note

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