Hurricane evacuations greatly increase risk of death for nursing home dementia patients, study shows

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LTC operators exercise caution, implement plans for Hurricane Sandy
LTC operators exercise caution, implement plans for Hurricane Sandy

Nursing home residents with severe dementia suffered a staggering increase in their mortality rate after evacuations from their facilities ahead of a natural disaster, according to a new study.

The three-year review of nursing home evacuations during hurricanes showed a 218% increase in mortality after the affected residents were moved within the governmental guidelines for relocation.

"We don't know why these deaths are occurring after evacuations,'' said Lisa Brown, a lead author of the dementia study and a professor of aging studies at the University of South Florida-Tampa. "This is the first report to quantify the deaths. It tells us we need to think through evacuations.

"There's a shortfall when it comes to mental health issues,” she added. “Dementia, depression and anxiety are not being dealt with."

The study covered the fate of 21,255 residents within 30 days of an evacuation from their Gulf Coast facilities. The increase of deaths within 90 days was 158%.

Study findings were announced at the Gerontological Society of America's annual meeting Thursday in San Diego. It follows a government study released in April that reported "gaps'' in nursing home evacuation plans.

Brown said “sheltering in place” is typically the preferred strategy. However, the report from the Office of Inspector General of Health and Human services said that the emergency plans of all 24 facilities reviewed were missing “about half of the tasks” on a 70-item checklist.

After dozens of nursing home residents died in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, evacuations increased 400% through Hurricane Gustav in 2008, researchers said.

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