Emergency Preparedness and Seniors

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Images of man-made disasters such as Kosovo, Rwanda, and Darfur prompted the RGP of Toronto's concern about the experience of seniors in disastrous situations. Seniors appeared infrequently in photographs and documentary's of these dire circumstances.  What happens to frail seniors in emergency camps for refugee's? How is delirium, incontinence, and cognitive impairment affected by disaster?  Interviews we undertook with international development personnel to answer these and other questions led to two quite distinct perceptions.  One perception was simply that seniors and especially frail seniors died during these disasters. A second perception was that in these particular disasters, adult men and women died or were killed leaving children and seniors in place. In these instances, we were told that  in emergent disastrous situations seniors provide the social glue essential to community, cultural and sometimes national  survival.

The status of seniors in environmental disasters such as the Pacific Tsunami of 2004 were also obscure. Until, gradually, environmental disasters came closer to home - The European Heat  Wave,  our own experience with SARS, the Florida Hurricanes and then Hurricane Katrina - and our understanding of the experience of seniors became more acute.  Many frail seniors do die. Many previously independent seniors need help lest they become frail. Still other seniors - retired policemen, nurses, engineers, teachers,  servicemen and just plain healthy and independent seniors - are an invaluable resource.

We welcomed the meeting convened in Toronto by the Public Health Agency of Canada in February 2006. Federal and provincial agencies, U.S. Federal and State organizations, the World Health Organization and International  Non-Governmental Agencies , geriatricians and gerontologists met to build a international collaboarton on Emergency Preparedness and Seniors.  In February 2007 with the continuing leadership of the Public Health Agency of Canada a second international meeting was held in Winnipeg in conjunction with the WHO, Help Age International and the Government of Manitoba.

The following list of websites provides access to some of the building blocks of what we expect will be a comprehensive approach to Emergency Preparedness for Seniors. :