Being Exposed to a Hurricane May Increase Risk of Death for Dementia Patients

Hurricanes can cause damages to property, shoreline, and infrastructure. They can also seriously impact the lives of those who live through them. A new study finds these impacts may include an increased mortality risk in one particular group.

Researchers from the University of Michigan recently examined the impacts of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Florence on the longevity of patients with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.

In a study published in JAMA Network Open, the researchers write, “Older adults living with Alzheimer disease and other related dementias (ADRD) are especially vulnerable during disaster events because of their dependence on others during crises. Previous hurricane studies have found general increases in mortality after exposure. However, little is known about how mortality after hurricane exposure differs among older adults living with ADRD. Therefore, we examined mortality changes among older adults with ADRD exposed to major US hurricanes.”


According to their findings, ADRD patients exposed to two of these storms – Harvey and Irma – saw increased mortality risk compared to those that had not been impacted. The data was drawn from Medicare administrative claims from counties that had a Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster declaration related to the hurricanes, as well as counties in the same state that did not have a declaration. The study involved around 350,000 people in each group. Within one year of the hurricanes, 54,340 participants with ADRD died, with the percentage of mortality attributed to exposure to Harvey at 10.9% and 6.2% for Irma.

Other findings include that mortality risk was highest in those aged 85 and older, with a 9% increase in death risk compared with those in the same age group who didn’t have dementia; there was a higher mortality risk for those enrolled in both Medicare and Medicaid; and the heightened risk remained for those who moved away a year after the storm.


Additionally, deaths peaked between three and six months after Harvey and Irma, which researchers say suggests these deaths weren’t linked with the immediate impacts of the storm, but due to factors that arose later, like lack of health care access, changes in daily routines, or changes in the living arrangement.

In light of their study, the researchers write, “As climate change impacts advance, an integrated approach designed to anticipate and respond to the needs of older Americans living with ADRD during disasters is critical. Improved response processes informed by research, policy, funding, and operational considerations to support the ADRD population affected by disasters are needed.”


You can read the whole paper here.

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