Researchers from the Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine presented findings at the "2015 Hurricane Sandy Conference: Translating Research into Practice," showing that strong neighborhood relationships reduced the incidence of symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among older adults exposed to Hurricane Sandy, the superstorm that devastated the Northeast United States. The findings provide new information about how the neighborhoods where older adults live can be bolstered in the face of natural disasters. The study, led by Rachel Pruchno, PhD, the director of Research at the medical school's New Jersey Institute for Successful Aging, relied on unique data derived from pre- and post-hurricane interviews with thousands of older people living in the communities hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy.
"Because the social support of family and friends is critical to their well-being, older adults tend be disproportionally impacted by natural disasters," said Dr. Pruchno, who noted that older adults accounted for 65 percent of Sandy-related deaths. "When Sandy destroyed phone and internet access, cutting off older people from family and friends, neighbors became even more important. We found lower rates of PTSD and fewer depressive symptoms among older people who had stronger neighborhood connections."
Building on a panel (ORANJ BOWL -- Ongoing Research on Aging in New Jersey, Bettering Opportunities for Wellness in Life) of 5,688 people aged 50-74 when they were recruited in 2006, the Rowan study is rare in that it can compare both pre- and post-disaster information from thousands of individuals. Participants were interviewed before (2006 -- 2008) and after (2013 -- 2015) the storm, giving the researchers unique insight into those aspects of neighborhoods that promoted the resilience among older adults.
"Resilience is not just a function of an individual's characteristics, resources and exposure to disaster," Pruchno said. "Resilience is affected by the neighborhoods people lived in. Our evidence suggests that neighborhood characteristics account for sizeable variations in resilience and can enhance the quality of life of older adults and reduce their health care costs during natural disasters."
The study had three parts. First, a questionnaire asking about exposure to Hurricane Sandy, interactions with neighbors, and mental health was sent to all panelists. Second, qualitative interviews with 30 panelists experiencing major home damage, were completed. The third, ongoing component, involves a comparison of health care spending before and after the hurricane using Medicare data.
The "2015 Hurricane Sandy Conference: Translating Research into Practice," was jointly sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. The conference, held at New York University on August 10-11, brought together researchers who had received grants related to Hurricane Sandy from the federal agencies with members of impacted communities and public health and emergency preparedness practitioners. The conference provided a forum for sharing research results among the groups and for finding ways to translate research results into practices that can transform ongoing and future response and recovery efforts from natural disasters.
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