Older Adults Should Include Connectedness in Disaster Preparation

Monday, 13 June, 2016

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Hurricane season is here. After a disaster, it’s common for families and individuals to feel stress and anxiety over their health and safety and this affects people in many different ways, according to Dr. Dan Dodgen with the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in a blog post “Older Adults: Include Connectedness in Your Hurricane Plan.”

In some cases, it can lead to anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorders, which can be disruptive to daily routines, and make it harder for many people to remember things or solve problems. Dodgen says a caregivers, families and older adults can benefit from taking a look at a recent study showing that maintaining meaningful relationships and connecting with friends, family and community before a disaster strikes can help those experiencing a disaster such as a hurricane.

The study, which was funded by HHS’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, examined 2,205 New Jersey residents ages 54 to 80 who lived through Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Participants were asked about the severity of their exposure to the hurricane and how close-knit their community was, and what PTSD-type symptoms they suffered from eight to 33 months after the storm. The study found that the impact of the storm on PTSD symptoms was far less for people who had social support than those who did not.

These findings are important for preparedness efforts because they suggest that those who feel more connected to friends, family and community are more likely to stay healthy or feel increased life satisfaction, according to Dodgen. As communities, public health efforts need to focus on ways to increase support networks to promote disaster resilience, he said. Participating in activities to foster civic engagement and social cohesion before and after a hurricane are just a few ways to take action and prevent post-traumatic stress in individuals.

If you are or know an older adult, use this month before hurricane season to make sure you are disaster-ready. Become more prepared and more connected to your friends, family, loved ones, and neighbors by sharing your evacuation plan, as well as any contingency plans for medications or medical devices that you may need in the event of an evacuation. Encourage your family and friends to check in regularly and know your routine. If you have older friends, plan together and be ready to check in on them as well. Participating in civic engagement and strengthening your ties to friends, family and community help you be better protected from physical or emotional harm.