Disaster, Vulnerability and Older Adults

(Citation: Barusch, Amanda S. (2011) ‘Disaster, Vulnerability, and Older Adults: Toward a Social Work Response’, Journal of Gerontological Social Work, 54: 4, 347 — 350.)

DISASTER

After the devastating earthquake in Christchurch we all feel vulnerable here in New Zealand, but as reports from Tokyo remind us, when it comes to disasters, older adults are most vulnerable of all. As of March 23, 65% of the 2,853 people known to have died in Japan’s earthquake and tsunami were over 60 years old, and an estimated 46% were 70 or older (House of Japan, 2011; Majiroxnews, 2011). These figures are high, even for a nation with one of the world’s oldest populations. Older adults make up 23% of Japanese, nearly twice their proportion in the United States.

Kansai University professor Yoshiaki Kawata explained that older people have higher mortality rates because they move more slowly. He suggested that “The central and local governments should review the way they evacuate the elderly and impress upon young people that they should help out in an emergency” (House of Japan, 2011; Majiroxnews, 2011). Evacuation plans are necessary but clearly not sufficient. MSNBC reported that 14 seniors died, presumably of exposure, after being moved from a hospital near the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant to temporary shelter in a school gym (MSNBC, 2011). Apart from that, when the sky is falling it is hardly reasonable to expect 25-year-olds to risk their own lives to help straggling elders.

But what is reasonable? This editorial will briefly consider factors that contribute to the vulnerability of older adults in times of disaster and outline some considerations that might inform our social work contribution to disaster preparedness and response.

Read full article…

DISASTER
After the devastating earthquake in Christchurch we all feel vulnerable here
in New Zealand, but as reports from Tokyo remind us, when it comes to
disasters, older adults are most vulnerable of all. As of March 23, 65% of the
2,853 people known to have died in Japan’s earthquake and tsunami were
over 60 years old, and an estimated 46% were 70 or older (House of Japan,
2011; Majiroxnews, 2011). These figures are high, even for a nation with one
of the world’s oldest populations. Older adults make up 23% of Japanese,
nearly twice their proportion in the United States.
Kansai University professor Yoshiaki Kawata explained that older people
have higher mortality rates because they move more slowly. He
suggested that “The central and local governments should review the way
they evacuate the elderly and impress upon young people that they should
help out in an emergency” (House of Japan, 2011; Majiroxnews, 2011).
Evacuation plans are necessary but clearly not sufficient. MSNBC reported
that 14 seniors died, presumably of exposure, after being moved from a
hospital near the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant to temporary shelter in
a school gym (MSNBC, 2011). Apart from that, when the sky is falling it
is hardly reasonable to expect 25-year-olds to risk their own lives to help
straggling elders.
But what is reasonable? This editorial will briefly consider factors that
contribute to the vulnerability of older adults in times of disaster and outline
some considerations that might inform our social work contribution to
disaster preparedness and response.
Vulnerability

One Response to Disaster, Vulnerability and Older Adults

  1. Amanda says:

    Hi and thank you for your comment. You may be the first person who’s not related to me in some way who’s ever commented here. I feel like I should shower you with gifts (like the first baby born each year. . .) But probably better just answer your question.

    I come to writing with a busy distracted mind. It takes some time to become present with my work. Yoga helps. Having a space and time where I do nothing but write helps. BF Skinner calls this “stimulus control” and it really works. Virginia Woolf did the same thing. I don’t have discipline, I have habits. So if, by 9AM, I’m not downstairs at my computer opening word I get this nagging feeling that something is wrong. When I settle in I start feeling right. That space/time combination helps keep the distractions at bay. But you asked about clearing the mind. Brenda Miller introduced me to the punctuation-free sentence. This is a great exercise for lots of things. I find it helps me get the garbage out of the way so I can dive into my writing project. I sit down and let the words spill out – the worries, insecurities, things I should be doing – with no commas and no periods, no pauses. Eventually the flow tapers off and real writing becomes possible. Another thing that helps me is keeping notes. If a distraction comes to mind that is too important to ignore I write it on a notepad. Then I can forget it and return to writing.

    Thanks so much for your encouraging note! What fun to dialogue about the process of writing!

    p.s. Sorry for the delayed response. It took me a while to figure out how to get replies to email.