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Aging and disaster: Coping in the wake of Hurricane Katrina

Christine L. Day, PhD, Alicia N. Jencik, PhD


Objectives: Understanding people’s resources and vulnerabilities is important to ongoing policymaking efforts in emergency management and disaster resilience. This study examines the self-reported experiences, psychological effects, and evacuation behaviors of New Orleanians across age groups, hypothesizing that older people are more likely to experience property losses and physical difficulties, but less likely to experience negative psychological effects.
Design: Data from a series of surveys between 2006 and 2009 of New Orleans residents after the 2005 flood caused by levee breaches in the wake of Hurricane Katrina are analyzed using logistic and ordered probit regression techniques.
Results: Respondents aged 65 years and older were significantly less likely than other respondents to report lost possessions; to worry about the future; to experience sadness, sleep loss, irritability, and lack of focus; and to have difficulties getting medical care and home repairs in the months following the storm, even when controlling for socioeconomic status, gender, and race.
Conclusions: Although it is important to note that the respondents represent those who had made it back to the city, rather than the entire pre-Katrina population, the results indicate that old age can be more of a resource than a weakness in the face of disaster. Disaster policy should not only consider and plan for older people’s vulnerabilities but also prepare to benefit from older people’s life experiences and resilience.


aging, disaster, resilience, Hurricane Katrina

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