The NEEDS of older adults in emergency and disaster relief

With renewed inspiration from the recent HelpAge International update on the situation for older adults after the Nepal earthquake (see my post on Rising from the rubble: Nepal earthquake one year on), I decided to publish my recent research on the topic.Fall 2015, I received confirmation that my abstract has been accepted to the NEEDS conference here in Copenhagen in December, 2015. It is a conference focused on disasters, disaster management, humanitarian aid and many of the things that disaster preparation and relief cover. I submitted an abstract highlighting how aging and older adults are often overlooked and even abandoned during disasters and in relief aid, and with an aging global population, many of whom live in low and middle income countries, this is a serious problem and the ethical principles of non-discrimination need to be practiced.

My presentation was in the session focused on Care and Catastrophe:

The panel examines the triangular interface between governmental authorities (municipals and state actors), official staff (social workers and care takers) and care receivers (such as the ageing, disabled persons and children). The papers draw on insights from Northwestern European approaches to care and catastrophes, as well as knowledge on Japanese and US disaster management. This allows for a comparative investigation on how responsibilities and roles are distributed in disaster interventions with a particular focus on care receivers as particularly vulnerable subjects in times of disaster.

While I was trying to bring awareness to the needs of aging adults, I was not focusing on care and how vulnerable they are or reducing all older adults to being helpless and needing special care. There are also strategies like:

  • placing their temporary housing closer to hygiene and healthcare facilities (so that they can quicker access them when needed),
  • not having stairs leading up to their temporary shelters (accommodating mobility issues),
  • using sufficient lighting at night (night vision declines as we age),
  • providing sleeping arrangements that are not simply blankets on hard floors (hard to get up from the floor and sleeping arrangements which make mobility worse),
  • utilizing the knowledge and wisdom of older adults to inform on the culture, family situations, and to organize and lead social organization,
  • things that are related to aging and apply to nearly all older adults, not just those in poorer health.

So, I was a bit disappointed that there was the view that aging adults needed specific care, rather than specific considerations, in disaster response. It seemed to perpetuate ideas of ageism…

Anyway, I digress. The presentation went well, the audience was interested and we had some good discussions afterwards. I have since submitted the abstract to the journal Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness, who, in collaboration with the National Center for Disaster Medicine and Public Health (NCDMPH), will publish a special collection of papers on Caring for Older Adults before, during, and after disasters. Hopefully, it will be accepted and published, and I can share the article with you here 🙂

By the way, I still run into that same problem of institutional affiliation… Since I am no longer with Aalborg University, I don’t feel right naming them. But, as I am a consultant for WHO and not staff, I cannot represent them in any official manner. And there is no option to list oneself as an independent researcher… so back to Aalborg Uni it is!

If you would like to know more on this topic, you can read more about issues around disasters and aging adults in my posts on Aging and emergencies and on Combating ageism in disaster relief.


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