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How climate change hurts vulnerable older adults

Written by Diane Archer

McKnight’s Long-Term Care News reports on how climate change hurts vulnerable older adults. Frail older adults who are no longer living independently need to plan ahead, ideally with the help of a caregiver, for power outages and emergency evacuations. People living in nursing homes are particularly at risk of mental and physical harm.

Last month, my mother-in-law, who lives in an assisted living facility in Jacksonville, Florida was forced to evacuate her facility because of the threat of a hurricane. Lucky for her, she had family in the city who took her in. Most of the people in her assisted living facility were bussed down to Tampa–a three-hour drive–to ensure they were clear of the path of the hurricane.

In 2017, 14 nursing home residents died as a result of Hurricane Irma. Irma cut the electricity at several facilities leaving residents without any air conditioning for many days. Hurricane Harvey caused severe flooding in Texas, requiring nursing home evacuations.

Hotter climates also can incapacitate air conditioning systems, requiring emergency evacuations. These evacuations are a threat to both the mental and physical health of staff and residents.

Democratic members of the Senate Finance Committee wrote a report on the effects of poor planning for nursing home residents in the vicinity of Hurricanes Irma and Harvey. The report recommends appropriate planning to protect residents when emergencies strike. It advises that staff at nursing homes and assisted living facilities have evacuation processes and prioritize power restoration.

Without electricity, many frail older adults cannot function properly. They rely on equipment that requires electricity to work, such as CPAP machines, mobility scooters, dialysis machines and nebulizers. Moreover, when elevators fail, it is difficult to evacuate frail elderly patients from upper floors of a building.

In addition, without air conditioning frail older adults are more likely to become dehydrated, to get an infection or to suffer a heart problem. In cold climates, prolonged frost tends to lead to more falls and broken bones.

Mental harm can be serious. Severe weather conditions can cause depression and anxiety in older adults. The consequences can be crippling for older adults.

Everyone should plan for weather emergencies. Just Care offers advice on planning for a weather emergency here. At nursing homes and assisted living facilities, staff need to be trained and prepared. How will people communicate if phone service and internet are not working? People should have a place to go for emergency shelter and access to medicines. Flashlights and medical supplies are a must, along with food and water.

Here’s more from Just Care:



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