Psychological and Emotional Stress Experienced by Older Adults as a Result of Natural Disasters

The effect of natural disasters on the elderly has become a focus of research and concern in the last decade. One of the reasons for this is that the number of older people is on the increase nationally and worldwide. The World Health Organization estimates that "...200 million of the 355 million people older than 65 years are in the developing world." (Care for the growing number of elderly people in developing countries needs to be addressed)

Studies have also focused on the fact that the elderly experience certain identifiable and particular stress factors and vulnerabilities in the face of natural disasters. "We must acknowledge that certain vulnerabilities exist among many elders and that these vulnerabilities are likely to intensify at times of disaster and during the often lengthy recovery process" (Oriol W.) the realization of the vulnerability of older people to disaster is evidenced by the collaboration between Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS) and the National Council on the Aging (NCOA), in bringing an important resource to communities to improve crisis counseling for the elderly. (Oriol W.) Therefore there is a growing body of research which mirrors the concern about the effects of emotional and psychological stress on the elderly in times of natural disaster.

One of the central aspects that affect emotional and psychological stress in this age group is the feeling of vulnerability in the event of natural disasters. This is especially the case in those above seventy - five years of age. (Oriol W.) This sense of vulnerability and the concomitant high levels of anxiety and stress have many contributing factors. Stress in the face of natural disasters can also be exacerbated by a strong sense of personal loss that is increased with age in many cases.

For example, the feeling of isolation and vulnerability that can lead to anxiety and stress is often increased by the actual situation of the elderly person who may be living alone or without support. "An older person who lives alone may be plunged into despair or apathy if it appears that disaster help is available only at distant emergency centers..." (Oriol W.)

There are numerous instances of vulnerability factors that can increase stress and anxiety in the elderly in dire situations. For instance, the common physical decline in old age may result in forms of sensory deprivation, which would tend to increase stress during and after a disaster. "Older persons' sense of smell, touch, vision, and hearing are likely to be less acute than that of the general population causing potential difficulties in emergencies. "(Oriol W.)

This may lead to numerous stressful and psychologically anxious times during a disaster.

An important fact that should be borne in mind is that very often elderly people are more susceptible to and very often already suffer from emotional and psychological problems, such as various Dementia, such as Alzheimer's disease. These problems can then be exacerbated by the advent of natural disasters. (Oriol W.)

Another factor mentioned in the literature is that the elderly are often more vulnerable to the trauma of natural disasters due to previous incidents and exposure to stress in the past. These include life crises such as "...widowhood, financial worries, negative impacts of retirement, fears of pain and disability, and problems caused by diminished sensory capacity." (Oriol W.) it has also been recognized that the effects of intense situations such as natural disasters can have a cumulative effect on the emotional condition of the individual and is known in the literature as Multiple Loss Effect.

On the other hand, previous trauma can also result in greater resilience in the elderly to the effects of natural disasters. It can, for example, increase the development of adaptive techniques in combating stress. However this aspect is relating to individual psychological constitutions.…