Researcher Receives $681K Grant to Examine Hurricane Sandy's Impact on Older People

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Rachel Pruchno, PhD, the director of Research at the New Jersey Institute for Successful Aging (NJISA) at RowanSOM, has received a two-year $681,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to examine the effects of Hurricane Sandy on a large, representative sample of more than 3,200 older people living in the nine New Jersey counties hit hardest by the storm. The study will identify aspects of social capital that promote the resilience of older adults exposed to the disaster.

Rachel Pruchno, PhD, the director of Research at the New Jersey Institute for Successful Aging (NJISA) at the RowanSOM, has received a two-year $681,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to examine the effects of Hurricane Sandy on a large, representative sample of more than 3,200 older people living in the nine New Jersey counties hit hardest by the storm. The study will identify aspects of social capital that promote the resilience of older adults exposed to the disaster. Because the participants were also assessed twice (in 2006 and in 2011) before Hurricane Sandy, the study offers a unique opportunity to understand resilience in older people. 

“Natural disasters tend to have a disproportionate impact on older people by disrupting the resources they need to function independently,” Pruchno said, “Older people accounted for 65 percent of deaths related to Hurricane Sandy. Understanding how neighborhood social capital affects resilience will fundamentally broaden the scope of disaster research and will identify ways that help protect the health and safety of older adults during emergencies.”

Pruchno estimates that nearly two-thirds of the eligible participants will have had some personal disaster exposure. Findings from this study will provide critical information informing individual and community-based interventions that can help minimize the vulnerability of older people both before and after a disaster strikes.

“An individual’s resilience is not just a function of that individual’s characteristics, resources and exposure to disaster,” Pruchno said. “Resilience is also affected by the neighborhoods in which people lived before, during and after the hurricane. Mounting evidence suggests that characteristics of the environment account for sizeable variations in resilience, and that these effects are strongest in later life.”

In addition to re-interviewing study participants in the nine New Jersey counties, the researchers will gather data from a variety of sources, including Medicare/Medicaid claims data, the 2010 Census, and focus groups of community service providers. 

This research project is being funded by a grant from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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