Study Finds Older Adults Aren’t Prepared for Disasters

Published on July 11, 2014

Compared to younger adults, older adults are more likely to have more disabling medical conditions, making them more vulnerable when natural disasters hit. Yet the majority of adults age 50 and older in the U.S. may not be prepared for a serious flood, earthquake, tornado, or other natural calamity.

These are among the findings College of Public Health researchers recently reported in the American Journal of Public Health. The report is based on a 2010 survey that was part of the Health and Retirement Study, which collects social, economic, and health information on adults age 50 and older in the U.S.

Only about one-third of the 1,304 adults interviewed said they had participated in an educational program or read information on how to prepare for a disaster. Less than 25 percent had an emergency plan in place. At the same time, nearly one-quarter of these older adults said they live alone, and almost one-third reported being disabled or in fair or poor health. The survey did not include older adults living in nursing homes or other institutional settings.

“Our analysis underscores that older adults living at home often have special needs and situations that put their health and safety at risk in the face of natural disasters,” says Tala Al-Rousan, the study’s primary author and a graduate student in epidemiology. “Yet many older adults report not being adequately prepared for disasters. The oldest respondents, 80- to 90-years olds, were significantly less prepared than 65- to 79-year-olds.”

The researchers also included Robert Wallace, professor of epidemiology and internal medicine and the director of the UI’s Center on Aging, and Linda M. Rubenstein, statistician in epidemiology.