ABSTRACT: The consequences of natural disasters on the social and health status of older people have not been deeply considered. The aim of this study was to evaluate the socioenvironmental and psychophysical conditions of an elderly population after a devastating earthquake. A randomly selected group of 332 older people (> or =64 years) was selected among 1548 eligible subjects living in the city of Nocera Umbra four months after an earthquake of 5.6 magnitude on the Richter scale. Three geriatricians evaluated the study subjects by means of a structured interview, and standardized scales, which considered physical and mental status, mood and anxiety, and self-perception of well-being, as well as the characteristics of family composition and social interactions. Of the study subjects, 11.1% lived alone, and 33.4% with the spouse only. Most were self-sufficient in the basic activities of daily life. Musculoskeletal diseases and hypertension were the most frequently observed pathologies in this geriatric population. In addition, 47.9% of the subjects lived in temporary houses; this group more frequently suffered from hypertension, and had a higher score of comorbidity as measured by Cumulative Illness Rating Scale (CIRS) compared to people who remained at home. People living in the pre-fabricated huts also showed a higher score on the Geriatric Depression Scale and the Hamilton scale for anxiety, and complained more often of their health status, evaluated as self-perception of well-being, when compared to the home dwellers. Although all the studied subjects suffered from the discomforts caused by the earthquake, the precariousness of living in temporary houses, whose structural characteristics do not take the needs of elderly subjects into account, could justify the higher distress experienced by persons housed in the huts. These observations suggest that, after natural disasters, emergency programs should be more adapted to elderly people, whose needs and expectations are often different from those of young adults.
Aging (Milan, Italy) 09/2000; 12(4):281-6.