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The elderly population has proven to be vulnerable in times of a disaster. Many have chronic medical problems for which they depend on medications or medical equipment. Some older adults are dependent on caregivers for managing their activities of daily living (ADLs), such as dressing, and their instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs), such as transportation.
A coordinated effort for disaster preparation in the elderly population is paramount. This study assessed the potential needs and plans of older adults in the face of a local disaster.
The setting was a community-based, university-affiliated, urban emergency department (ED) that sees more than 77,000 adult patients per year. A survey on disaster plans and resources needed if evacuated was distributed to 100 community-residing ED patients and visitors aged 65 years and older from January through July 2013. Means and proportions are reported with 95% confidence intervals (CIs).
Data were collected from 13 visitors and 87 patients. The mean age was 76 years, and 54% were female. Thirty-one responded that they had a disaster plan in place (31/100; CI, 22.4-41.4%). Of those 31, 94% (29/31; CI, 78.6-99.2%) had food and water as part of their plan, 62% (19/29; CI, 42.2-78.2%) had a supply of medication, and 35% (12/31; CI, 21.8-57.8%) had an evacuation plan. When asked what supplies the 100 subjects might need if evacuated, 33% (CI, 23.9-43.1%) needed a walker, 15% (CI, 8.6-23.5%) needed a wheelchair, 78% (CI, 68.6-85.7%) needed glasses, 17% (CI, 10.2-25.8%) needed a hearing aid, 16% (CI, 9.4-24.7%) needed a glucometer, 93% (CI, 86.1-97.1%) needed medication, 14% (CI, 7.8-22.4%) needed oxygen, 23% (CI, 15.2-32.5%) needed adult diapers, and 21% (CI, 13.2-30.3%) had medical equipment that required electricity. Many of the subjects also required help with one or more of their ADLS, the most common being dressing (17%; CI, 10.3-26.1%), or their IADLS, the most common being transportation (39%; CI, 29.7-49.7%). Only 42% (CI, 32.3-52.7%) were interested in learning more about disaster preparation.
Only a minority of the older adults in the study population had a disaster plan in place. Most of the respondents would require medications, and many would require medical supplies if evacuated.