Catastrophic events and older adults

Crit Care Nurs Clin North Am. 2010 Dec;22(4):501-13. doi: 10.1016/j.ccell.2010.10.003.


The plight of older adults during catastrophic events is a societal concern. Older persons have an increased prevalence of cognitive disorders, chronic illnesses, and mobility problems that limit their ability to cope. These disorders may result in a lack of mental capacity and the ability to discern when they should evacuate or resolve problems encountered during a catastrophe. Some older persons may have limited transportation options, and many of the elderly survivors are at increased risk for abuse, neglect, and exploitation. Recommendations for future catastrophic events include the development of a federal tracking system for elders and other vulnerable adults, the designation of separate shelter areas for elders and other vulnerable adults, and involvement of gerontological professionals in all aspects of emergency preparedness and care delivery, including training of frontline workers. Preparation through preevent planning that includes region-specific social services, medical and public health resources, volunteers, and facilities for elders and vulnerable adults is critical. Elders need to be protected from abuse and fraud during catastrophic events. A public health triage system for elders and other vulnerable populations in pre- and postdisaster situations is useful, and disaster preparedness is paramount. Communities and members of safety and rescue teams must address ethical issues before an event. When older adults are involved, consideration needs to be given to triage decision making, transporting those who are immobile, the care of older adults who receive palliative care, and the equitable distribution of resources. Nurses are perfectly equipped with the skills, knowledge, and training needed to plan and implement disaster preparedness programs. In keeping with the tradition of Florence Nightingale, nurses can assume several crucial roles in disaster preparedness for older adults. Nurses possess the ability to participate and lead community policy development, serve on rescue teams, perform patient assessments, and deliver care. Nurses are crucial to well-planned and executed programs for catastrophic events that affect older adults. Also, all health care providers involved must be aware of the physical and psychological ramifications of disaster relief. The health and resilience of disaster-relief teams depend on paying attention to signs and symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder and seeking appropriate treatment should it occur.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Benchmarking
  • Cognition Disorders / prevention & control
  • Delirium / prevention & control
  • Dementia / prevention & control
  • Depression / prevention & control
  • Disaster Planning / organization & administration*
  • Elder Abuse / prevention & control
  • Geriatric Nursing / ethics
  • Geriatric Nursing / organization & administration*
  • Geriatrics / organization & administration
  • Health Services Needs and Demand
  • Health Services for the Aged / organization & administration
  • Humans
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / prevention & control
  • Transportation of Patients
  • Triage
  • Vulnerable Populations