Major Storms Adversely Affect People 65 and Older

People residing in Texas and Florida are reeling from the trauma and damage caused by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Older people, especially those with chronic medical conditions or Dementia, were hit the hardest.

Many feared the impact on the older population would be worse than that in prior hurricanes. In 2011, the results of a study done by a research team led by Dr. David Dosa were published. That study tracked more than 36,000 nursing home patients who had been through Hurricane Katrina and three others. Those showed within 90 days following those four storms there were 579 more deaths and 544 more hospitalizations than expected.

Let’s focus on the impact of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma on those 65 and older. Let’s break them into two groups – those living in nursing homes and those living by themselves.

The Response in Florida Was Different Than That in Texas

The nursing homes and assisted-living centers in Florida responded differently to Hurricane Irma than the way those in Texas responded to Hurricane Harvey.

At present, almost 20% of Florida’s population is age 65 and older. The people in this age group have a bigger say in what happens there.

State law requires nursing homes and assisted living centers have disaster plans. The staffs know what they are going to do when a hurricane hits.

  • Most prefer to have the residents stay in their facilities rather than evacuate. In doing so, they avoid having to have their residents on buses or in vans tied up in long traffic jams created by other evacuees.Their residents, especially those suffering from dementia, are less likely to worry and get agitated. Their eating and sleeping habits won’t be disrupted. They don’t have to be concerned a shelter won’t have the facilities or supplies they need to care for their residents.
  • They stock up on extra supplies and have generators in case of power outages.
  • Residents, especially those with mild dementia, are easily upset by television stations’ frequent updates on an approaching storm. So, they turn those off. Prior to Irma, one home switched to a channel showing comedies.
  • If medical emergencies arise, they know how to handle them.
  • If evacuation becomes necessary, they know where their residents will go and how they’ll get there.
  • They know each resident’s needs. If a wheelchair or walker is needed, they have it. If a resident requires oxygen, they make sure they have it.

Texas, especially Harris County where Houston is located, is not a prime destination for retirees. In Harris County only 9.5% of the residents are 65 and older. The nursing homes and assisted living centers are not as prepared to care for their residents as their counterparts in Florida.

When Harvey hit, many had to scramble to care for their residents.

  • If they didn’t evacuate, they may not have had enough supplies for their residents to last through the storm and afterwards.
  • When the power went out, some had to rely on first responders to help them deal with it.
  • Some were not able to deal quickly with medical emergencies which arose.
  • If evacuation was necessary, they had to scramble to get all the residents out. They needed help from others. Frequently the evacuation was not as smooth as desired.

Invariably After a Hurricane, Horror Cases Come to Light

That was true for Harvey and Irma.

  • In Texas, there was the nursing home where 15 residents were in waist deep water.
  • The Wednesday after Irma hit, 3 residents were found dead at a nursing home in Florida. Later that day 5 others died at a hospital.

When the power was knocked out, that home switched to generators. However, they couldn’t run the home’s air conditioning. The outside temperature during the days was in the 90s. In the home, it was over 100. Most of the victims died of heat exhaustion.

While hurricanes adversely affect older people in nursing homes, they can be far harder on those living alone.

  • These people have to determine themselves whether they are going to remain home during the storm or evacuate. If they decide to evacuate, are they able to drive as far as needed to escape the storm? How long will it take them on roads clogged with other evacuees? Will they be able to handle it? Will those with special needs, like a walker, wheel chair, oxygen or dialysis equipment find a shelter for them?
  • If they don’t evacuate, they may have to compete with much younger people to get the food, water and other supplies necessary to last through the storm.
  • They have to make sure they have enough medicine for the duration. What do they do if they run out?
  • How will they prepare meals if there is a power outage lasting several days?
  • What will they do if their home floods?
  • If they are on oxygen or dialysis, what happens in a power failure?

Problems Continue for Quite a While After the Storm Ends

Water or other damage to their residences require repair. This can be a major problem.

  • Most are living on fixed incomes. If the repairs are not covered by insurance, they may not have enough to pay for them.
    They also compete with younger people to have repairs made. Contractors may opt to work with the younger people first believing they will pay them more quickly than older ones.

These issues only add to the anxiety and frustration older people face.

Do We Have to Worry in East Tennessee?

You may be thinking you don’t have to worry about things like this. You live here in East Tennessee. The chances of a major hurricane like Harvey or Irma or another natural disaster hitting this area are minimal.

That’s true. However, there can be severe storms. Power outages can last for days. Homes and apartments can be damaged.

An example is the wildfire in Gatlinburg in November of 2016. 14 people died. Did you know only 3 of the 14 were under 59 – Constance Reed and her 2 daughters. The ages of the rest were from 59 to 85.

Don’t you find that strange? Why were most of the 14 older people? Could it have been they were not as physically fit as younger people?

If you are 65 or older, how would a severe storm impact you? If you’re not in this age group but have a family member, relative, neighbor or friend who is older, how would they be affected? If you’re an older person and live alone, you need to have a plan in place:

  • Plan to stay with a family member or relative during a storm. If none are in the area, stay with a friend.
  • If you’re alone, update your family or friends regularly during the storm.
  • Make sure to have enough medication to last at least a week.
  • If you’re on oxygen or getting dialysis at home and the power goes out, let your family members or friends know immediately. If you can’t reach a family member or friend, call 911.
  • Make sure to have enough food and water for the duration. Have a plan for meals during a power outage.
  • Get to higher ground immediately if your place starts to flood. If you use a walker or are in a wheelchair, call for help.
  • If your residence is damaged and needs repairs, make sure to get someone to help you to get the repairs made as soon as possible.

If you are a son or daughter, make sure your parent or parents have this plan in place. If they don’t, help them create one. If one of your neighbors is older and they have no family living in the area, discuss this with them and help them create a plan.

Make Sure the Nursing Home or Assisted Living Center Has a Plan in Place

If your parent or parents are in a nursing home or assisted living center, find out if the home has an emergency plan. Review it. If they don’t have one, meet with the Administrator and urge them to create one.

The health and safety of older people is of vital concern. Having a plan in place on what to do during and after severe storms protects them.