When a disaster occurs, adults over age 65 may be disproportionately impacted due to sensory deficits, chronic health conditions, diminished social support and isolation, and financial limitations. Although older adults comprised approximately 15 percent of the New Orleans population, they accounted for over 70 percent of the fatalities associated with Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Disasters can also impact older adults’ morbidity, as a disaster may disrupt established habits and routines (e.g., timing of medication administration) and result in removal from a familiar environment, promoting disorientation. This may raise particular challenges for older adults with mental and physical co-morbidities, and subsequently for their formal and informal caregivers.
While some older adults may need care for physical health problems following a disaster, mental health needs are often overlooked or unmet. One study of Hurricane Katrina survivors found that, compared to older adults, middle-aged individuals were twice as likely to have received mental health services in the eight months after the hurricane.