Public Release: 

Elders suffer disproportionately during heat waves, other disasters

Plans for seniors still a policy blindspot

The Gerontological Society of America

Recent natural disasters have negatively affected older people significantly more than other demographic groups, yet few steps have been taken to improve ensuing relief efforts, according to the latest issue of the Public Policy & Aging Report (PP&AR), a quarterly publication of the National Academy on an Aging Society.

Under the subject of "Disasters and Aging," this installment of the PP&AR also features articles discussing the impact of national crises and the lessons policymakers can learn from them.

Two major weather events in the past several years have wreaked special havoc on older adults - the Chicago heat wave of 1995 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. People of advanced age were disproportionately overlooked, abandoned, or forgotten. Nearly 75 percent of the victims in Chicago and New Orleans were over the ages of 60 or 65, respectively.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently reported that there is a 90 to 99 percent probability that there will be higher maximum temperatures and more heat waves over nearly all land areas in the twenty-first century. The group also stated that the likely consequences of these events would be an increased incidence of death and serious illness in older age groups and the urban poor.

Just as normal emergency response systems become overloaded in times of disaster, functional seniors are among the first groups to become challenged beyond their reserves. Author Thomas Glass of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health therefore outlines several policy recommendations to combat this problem. His research offers such suggestions as using census data to identify locations of vulnerable people and utilizing social support networks to assist in evacuations.


A copy of this issue of PP&AR can be obtained at:

The National Academy on an Aging Society is the policy institute of The Gerontological Society of America (GSA), the oldest and largest national multidisciplinary scientific organization devoted to the advancement of gerontological research. Founded in 1945, GSA's membership includes some 5,000+ researchers, educators, practitioners, and other professionals in the field of aging. The Society's principal missions are to promote research and education in aging and to encourage the dissemination of research results to other scientists, decision makers, and practitioners.

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