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Early preparation is key to managing impact of natural hazards

Fountain L, Tofa M, Hyanes K, Taylor M, Ferguson S. Older adults in disaster and emergency management: What are the priority research areas in Australia? International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction. 2019; 39: 101248.

Review question

      What are the research priorities pertaining to older adults in the context of natural hazards in Australia?

Background

      It is widely understood that older adults are more vulnerable to natural hazards compared to the general population.

      This phenomenon is especially important now given the aging population and the increasing frequency and severity of natural hazard events.

      As a result, it is critical to understand the specific needs and strengths of older adults and the extent to which individuals, families, communities, and authorities can go to best prepare older adults for these hazards (known as “disaster management”).

      The purpose of this review is to gain a better understanding of the research priorities pertaining to older adults in the context of natural hazards in Australia.

How the review was done

      Review authors conducted a search of two research databases for eligible studies published between the years 2000 and 2018.

      Keywords used in the search included older adults, wildfire, cyclone, hurricane, earthquake, flood, and natural disaster.

      A total of 719 articles were retrieved from the initial search, of which 42 were included in this review.

      The authors received a Macquarie University Faculty of Arts Themed Research Workshop Grant to support the research reported in this review.

What the researchers found

      In Australia, heatwaves were the most prevalent topic discussed in the literature. One study found that general practitioners can play a crucial role in managing heatwaves among older adults by identifying those at risk and implementing tailored strategies to minimize the effects of extreme heat episodes. Another study proposed the development of heat-related response plans in emergency rooms. Finally, a third article suggested increasing community-based communication such as effective warning systems within the community and media-run education campaigns about heat-related health risks.

      Ten publications examined fires, which was associated with ischemic heart disease in older adults. It was found that warnings from community members and neighbours and animal ownership among older adults were associated with mobilizing preparedness and evacuation plans.

      In a study evaluating older adults’ preparedness for cyclones, older adults were found to be concerned about their ability to prepare and recover after cyclones due to both age-associated concerns and previous experiences of a lack of social support. They also reported fears of evacuating from homes and trauma associated with recovery, which contribute to older adults' feelings of isolation and frustration.

      One study considering general preparedness for natural hazards noted that older adults can face limitations in access to health services after natural disasters due to lack of accessible transportation. Another study assessing the health impacts of climate change also found that limited access to social networks, transportation, and lower socioeconomic status can mean that certain older adults will have increased difficulty receiving messages, preparing, and responding appropriately to natural hazards.

      While one study recommended psychosocial interventions to support older adults following natural hazards, another found high levels of resilience among this population and highlighted the importance of harnessing the knowledge and experience of older adults.

Conclusion

      In conclusion, this review provided a basic overview of the key research areas in emergency and disaster management for older adults in Australia.

      The research highlighted the vulnerability of older adults as a cohort, particularly in relation to heatwaves, though there has been less attention to understanding diversity within older adults and how this may influence safety or risk during natural hazards.

      These factors include gender, LGBTIQA, cultural and linguistically diverse communities, disabilities and chronic illnesses, and living and caring arrangements.




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