Are Older Adults a Help or Hindrance to Their Communities in Times of Crisis?

In an attempt to understand how communities can better cope with natural disasters, researchers and governments are looking at factors associated with communities’ preparedness for emergency situations. One way this is assessed is by looking at a community’s resilience, or its capacity to overcome changes and crises. In most analyses of community preparedness, older adults are considered susceptible populations with special needs. However, when looking at data from one tool used to measure a community’s resilience, researchers also found that healthy older adults in particular may contribute positively to the community’s overall resilience.

In addition to infrastructure, services, and protection, community resilience also encompasses a range of social factors related to its overall health and cohesiveness. To better measure community resilience, researchers developed the Conjoint Community Resilience Assessment Measurement (CCRAM), which looks at various aspects of the social and community lives of the individuals who take it. Specifically, CCRAM measures leadership, collective efficacy, preparedness, place attachment, and social trust. A recent study looked at relationship of age to these factors among 885 adults of all ages in communities in Israel. The five age ranges examined were under 30; 31 to 45; 46 to 60; 61 to 75; and 75 or better.

Overall, the researchers found a significant association with CCRAM scores and age. Looking at the five factors individually, they found age to be statistically associated with leadership, preparedness, and place attachment, but not collective efficacy and social trust. For leadership and place attachment, scores continued to increase throughout the lifespan. Preparedness peaked at ages 61 to 75 and dipped after age 75. Researchers also cautioned that conclusions for the 75 and better group were difficult to make due to the smaller number of surveys from that group and considerable variability in those surveys.

This data suggests that even though 65 is typically considered retirement age, those over 65 constitute a significant potential community resource that can serve to provide additional resilience in times of crisis. As the authors note, “if the ageing population becomes a source of strength, this becomes one of the steps to achieve the resiliency role.”



Cohen O, Geva D, Lahad M, et al. Community resilience throughout the lifespan: the potential contribution of healthy elders. PLoS One. (2016). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0148125


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