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Living with a Chronic Disabling Illness and Then Some: Data from the 1998 Ice Storm*

  • Monique A.M. Gignac (a1) (a2), Cheryl A. Cott (a1) (a3) and Elizabeth M. Badley (a1) (a2)


This study examined the impact of the 1998 Canadian ice storm on the physical and psychological health of older adults (age > 55 years) living with a chronic physical illness, namely osteoarthritis and/or osteoporosis. Although disasters are relatively rare, they are a useful means of examining the impact of a single stressor on a group of individuals. Specifically, we took advantage of a natural experiment to compare the responses of a group of 59 ice storm victims to those of 55 matched controls living outside the ice storm area. Data on disability, pain, self-reported health, helplessness, depression, and independence were assessed prior to the ice storm and approximately 17 months later. Older adults who reported greater helplessness and lost independence prior to the storm reported significantly greater ice storm stress and rumination and were more likely to report that the storm affected their condition. In addition, participants exposed to the ice storm reported significant changes in disability and pain nearly a year and a half later, compared to matched controls. These results suggest that older adults with chronic physical illness may be particularly vulnerable when faced with additional stressful events.

L'étude examine l'impact de la tempête canadienne de verglas de 1998 sur la santé physique et psychologique des personnes âgées (soit de 55 ans et plus) et vivant avec une maladie physique chronique tel l'arthrite par usure et/ou l'ostéoporose. Bien que les catastrophes soient rares, elles servent de moyen efficace pour examiner l'impact d'une seule tension sur un groupe de personnes. Plus précisément, nous avons tiré profit d'une expérience naturelle afin de comparer les réponses d'un groupe de 59 victimes de la tempête de verglas contre celles de 55 personnes faisant partie d'un groupe contrôle se retrouvant à l'extérieur de la zone de la tempête de verglas. Nous avons analysé des données portant sur l'incapacité, la douleur, les auto-reportages de santé, l'impuissance, la dépression et l'indépendance. Ces données ont été évaluées avant la tempête de verglas et plus ou moins 17 mois après cette dernière. Les personnes âgées qui témoignaient une impuissance accrue et une perte d'indépendance avant la tempête, faisaient preuve d'une augmentation de stress et de méditation suivant la tempête ; de plus elles étaient plus susceptibles de témoigner que la tempête avant eu un effet négatif sur leur condition. En comparaison au groupe contrôle, les participants exposés à la tempête de verglas ont fait preuve de changements importants en incapacité et en douleur et ce presque 18 mois suivant la tempête. Ces résultats suggèrent que les personnes âgées qui souffrent d'une maladie physique chronique peuvent être spécialement vulnérables lorsque confrontées à des évènements stressants.


Corresponding author

Requests for offprints should be sent to: / Les demandes de tirés-à-part doivent être adressées à : Monique A.M. Gignac, Ph.D., Division of Outcomes & Population Health, The Toronto Western Research Institute, Main Pavilion 10–316, 399 Bathurst Street, Toronto, ON M5T 2S8. (


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This research was supported by Grant 410970184 from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and by an Ontario Ministry of Health, Health System–Linked grant to The Arthritis Community Research and Evaluation Unit. We thank Debbie Sutton, Christine Dixon, and Julie Bowring for their assistance with the paper.



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