Don’t assume the elderly can’t cope in a disaster

New evidence has emerged showing that older people could cope in a disaster, despite popular views to the contrary.

Older people who reside in their own homes may be thought of as vulnerable in emergency events, but little is known about their preparedness for a crisis. Preparedness may be a feeling of comfort and security in an elderly person’s world and that process has been built upon over many years.

Research by the Torrens Resilience Institute shows that that while older people might not define themselves as ‘being prepared’ in terms of traditional disaster management assessments, they do not feel vulnerable. They accept their limitations, but feel confident they can cope. Being prepared for an emergency for them is more than toolkits and checklists.

Through life experience, older people have developed a sense of their ability to cope in a disaster which goes beyond physical requirements.

Interviews with the elderly reveal the crisis was internalised and less significant to, or noticed by, others. An event may not have a clear beginning or end; and might continue to be a feature of everyday experience, such as living without a loved one after their death.

There was also an incremental effect of events over a lifetime, with an accumulation of smaller experiences as meaningful as a larger event which fostered a feeling of preparedness and ability to cope.

Better insights into what influences older people to prepare for emergency events, and acknowledging that their resilience is a strength they have developed over time, will contribute to ways on how best to help this group in emergency preparedness and in understanding their needs.

Older people might have some specific needs, but they also have knowledge, experience and a sense of community. While the older people in this study might not define themselves as being prepared, they considered themselves to be resilient.

Research Team

Student: Ms Victoria Cornell, Principal Supervisor: Prof Paul Arbon

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