Being Old In The Eye Of Hurricane Harvey

"Of the over 1,000 who died in Hurricane Katrina, almost half were 75 or older, according to researchers. Most died on the day of the storm, August 29, 2005, and drowning was the leading cause of death. During Hurricane Sandy, more than one-third of those who died were in their homes. These results present a tragic portrait of elderly residents in NY. The high death toll in the elderly was likely due to older people being more vulnerable and frail and unable to fight the catastrophic storm," Associated Press, 2008

Most older adults who die during a hurricane die by drowning, by fire or by sustaining an injury due to a fall. They die alone and likely afraid.

How safe are the older adults now in Houston and have we learned the lessons we should have mastered after Hurricane Katrina and after Hurricane Sandy?

Since Hurricane Harvey started on its destructive path I think about the old people there constantly: those in their own homes with dementia living alone and unaware, those with a mobility impairment and unable to move fast enough to get out of the rising water, and those who may have just woken up feeling weak and had no one to call to help. Many of these people cannot communicate their whereabouts through social media; they may be socially isolated, thus may not find rescue.

What have we done since Katrina and Sandy to help older adults plan and prepare for emergencies either in their home or in a facility?

What are the disaster rescue plans in communities, in nursing homes, in assisted living facilities and how feasible are they?

Over the past few days the media has shown us both dramatic rescues and horrifying scenes of older adults during Hurricane Harvey. Time will tell how many people were left to die in their homes, or in a facilitiy. We’ll find out who died as a result of sitting or standing in water for hours or days, who died by fire, or who died as a result of a broken bone or infection contracted after a fall in the darkness.

I dread hearing this tragic news, knowing that we should have taken care. We should have taken heed of the warnings, could have planned better, and we as individuals and in communities, might have cared more.

I hope that this time we learn.

As our national population ages, and as natural disasters occur more and more frequently, we need to think seriously about rescue planning, and empower ourselves and the older adults among us to create a disaster survival plan.

We all need to be involved in thinking and talking about who might need help and what they might need during a natural disaster. This is not a one time only conversation. We begin by speaking with our own loved ones, then connect with others around us, and maintain communication on this issue. After we raise the issue with our neighbors we bring it to community meetings, and then to our elected officials.

Let's all think of ways to keep safe and healthy as we age in these precarious times. And in the meantime, here are some ideas of how you can help those affected by Hurricane Harvey: http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/08/28/546745827/looking-to-help-those-affected-by-harvey-here-s-a-list

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