Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

Disasters can take a toll on the elderly

Elderly depending on medicines are most affected during natural calamities

At the time of any calamity, the immediate reaction of all able-bodied people is self-protection, care and concern for women and children, safety and recovery of important documents, property and valuables. Elderly in the family are expected to look after themselves or the focus shifts on them at the end. Natural calamities are devastating for all but the old people are the most vulnerable section, who have to suffer a lot due to poor health condition, emotional vulnerability and poor physical strength.

While extending a helping hand to old people during natural calamities in the last two decades, Agewell Foundation volunteers have found that natural calamities affect old people very badly in comparison to younger people. In many cases, due to disturbance in normal life, they have to suffer a lot as they do not get their food and medicines, they can’t take proper rest—things they need the most in old age. They have to suffer for a long time, in some cases for months and years. Many elderly meet early death due to their compromised and devastated life, property and emotional issues after a natural disaster.

Health issues

The stress caused by having to cope with a natural disaster increases the symptoms of serious health issues in the elderly. They remain perplexed due to the disorientation caused by loss of property and loved ones, and by displacement from their homes and familiar surroundings. It is the main cause for increased susceptibility to old age-related diseases. 

Most disturbing problems of older people during natural calamities include medical- and health-related problems, psychological issues, physical security related issues and food and shelter related issues. In the wake of natural calamities, the elderly depending on medicine are most affected, according to volunteers.

One-third of Agewell volunteers observed that the elderly had to suffer a lot due to this during natural calamities. Further, 33% volunteers claimed that psychological problems of the elderly were critical as there was no psychological counselling available during or after such distress situations.

The challenges

Limited mobility: Agewell volunteers further observed that evacuation of the elderly in the early stages of a natural disaster is complicated by their limited mobility. In addition to the physical barriers to coping with natural disasters, there are mental barriers posed by memory and reasoning impairment which makes it difficult for old people to respond adequately to complex and chaotic situations. 

Relief material distribution: During a natural disaster, relief material distributed among the affected hardly contain medicines, often used by old people. It has also been observed that during distribution of relief material, older people are the last recipient, as they find it difficult to reach the point of relief distribution in time.

During natural calamities government agencies, NGOs, corporates, organisations and individuals rush to affected areas with relief material and help but they barely think about specific needs and requirements of old people. While making a relief plan for disaster hit areas, they should think about the elderly as well and attempt to reach out to them on a priority basis.

Himanshu Rath is founder chairman of Agewell Foundation