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Hurricane Sandy, the super-storm that ravaged parts of New York and New Jersey last month, caused unprecedented damage to New York City. At last count, about 132 deaths were attributed to Sandy, half of which were 65 years of age or older. Both Governors Andrew Cuomo (NY-D) and Chris Christie (NJ-R) are appealing for federal aid to help cover the overwhelming costs of recovery. According to The New York Times, estimates price the damage for New York state to be more than $42 billion, with about 305,000 housing units damaged or destroyed, and thousands left homeless. AARP was among many echoing the Better Business Bureau’s warning regarding Sandy scams and “storm chasers,” or people who take advantage of home owners in need of assistance with cleanup, flood and wind damage, and roof repair. In the aftermath of Sandy, those of us working with the elderly population in affected regions are thinking about the physical and emotional stress created by the storm, and available resources to address their trauma.
The Emotional Aftermath on Older Adults
In “The Emotional Aftermath of Hurricane Sandy” from The New York Times’ blog, The New Old Age, experts in the field of geriatrics weighed in on how to identify and respond to emotional trauma following a natural disaster. In the piece, three of NYCEAC’s experts offered advice and analysis on the detrimental emotional and psychological impact this hurricane may have on older adults in the effected areas.
Here’s what they had to say:
Dr. Mark Lachs, NYCEAC Director, said that “the storm was a major thing, a very large disequilibrating event, and its impact is an enormous concern.” He also noted that “In geriatrics, we have this idea of the ‘geriatric cascade’ that refers to how a seemingly minor things can set in motion a functional, cognitive and psychological downward spiral…a situation like Sandy, which causes so much disruption, can be a tipping point.”
Dr. Mark Nathanson, a geriatric psychiatrist at Columbia University Medical Center and member of one of NYCEAC’s multidisciplinary teams, warned, “’This age group doesn’t generally feel comfortable talking about their feelings; likely, they’ll mask those emotions or minimize what they’re experiencing.” Dr. Nathanson asked readers to look for worrisome signs of delirium and trauma, like confusion, listlessness, apathy, unresponsiveness and agitation, and to call 911 if delirium is suspected.
Bobbie Sackman, Director of public policy for the Council of Senior Centers and Services of New York City and NYCEAC partner said, “That isolation, I can’t tell you how disorienting that can be. They’re scared, but they won’t tell you because they’re too proud and ashamed to ask for help.”
The Council of Senior Centers and Services of NYC (CSCS) compiled a webpage of resources and information for older victims of Hurricane Sandy and the professionals who serve them. Access this page by clicking here.
New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG) has created a Storm Response Unit as part of their efforts help Sandy victims. In the immediate aftermath, lawyers helped victims with FEMA applications, public benefits, housing issues, insurance and other immediate legal needs. This work continues, along with long-term disaster relief. Victims of Sandy can find information about requesting legal help here. Professionals of all backgrounds can volunteer with NYLAG. For information about how to get involved, click here.
New York State Office of Mental Health (OMH) is maintaining a special page of Hurricane Sandy Resources that is available by clicking here. The list includes updated information about various waivers in effect after the storm as well as contact information for NYS resources.