Senior Citizens on the Gulf Coast After Environmental Catastrophes

Senior Citizens on the Gulf Coast After Environmental Catastrophes

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NEW ORLEANS -- According to the U.S. Census Bureau, almost 12% of the New Orleans population was comprised of residents 65 years of age or older. That number is guaranteed to balloon considering the Associated Press reports that January 2011 will kick off an almost 20 year span of 10,000 people per day turning 65 years of age. With New Orleans already having a strained healthcare system, what happens to the local jurisdiction when America shifts from being a young country to an older one?

In 2010, there are an estimated 40 million Americans who are at least 65 years old. In 2030, the number is projected to jump to 72 million. In twenty years, almost 1/6th of this nation's population will be of retirement age. One wonders what affect this has on the traditional notion of retirement, are baby boomers ruining what it means to retire? Are they going to kill Medicare?

These questions and many others were discussed during the Gerontological Society of America's 63rd annual scientific meeting held in New Orleans last month. The Gerontological Society of America (GSA) is America's oldest and largest interdisciplinary organization devoted to research, education, and practice in the field of aging.

"Transitions of Care across the Aging Continuum" was the theme for this year's conference. Implementing the best methods of caring for older Americans is now, more than ever, a topic of concern. For New Orleans, those concerns are likely greater than average.

One city-specific symposium, "Transitioning Nursing Home Residents during Hurricane Emergencies," explored the difficult decisions nursing home administrators and staff are forced to make when planning for and addressing natural disasters. Unlike earthquakes and tornadoes, hurricanes offer a window of time to make decisions and execute. Unlike snowstorms, that window is usually a few days instead of a week.

Unlike other examples of inclement weather, preparing for a major hurricane typically includes evacuation which requires a substantial amount of money. Considering the responsibility of caring for fragile residents including the potential of an increased number of deaths with evacuations and nursing home administrators have many things to weigh when deciding to evacuate or remain.

Though no concrete suggestions were given, besides one presenter unrealistically advising there be no nursing homes built in greater New Orleans, it is of value to understand the collective nuisances and hardships of specific demographics when it comes to planning for hurricanes and evacuations.

Other presentations included important topics such as: the correlation between family size and life expectancy, the new "middle age," issues for LGBT baby boomers, poverty for older Americans and what it means to age in different cultures.

In conjunction with the MetLife Foundation, The New Orleans Agenda will publish a series of articles focusing on senior citizens of the Gulf and how they have had to face significant changes in their way of life due to recent environmental catastrophes.

The piece will include interviews with older African Americans living along the Gulf Coast who were affected by the 2005 hurricane season discussing their daily lives now, as well as how their lives have changed drastically in recent years. The series will include a focus on the people who refused to leave New Orleans, even after the city was debilitated by the damages caused by Hurricane Katrina and the failed levee system. In addition the series will also include discussions with members of the African American fishing communities who are suffering from the 2010 BP oil spill and how they have been ignored by mainstream media.