AAG Hot Topic 2021

Disasters and resilience

This hot topic unpacks the issue that has dominated the headlines due to recent events in Australia and globally. How do communities cope with disasters and traumatic events such as heatwaves, droughts, bushfires, floods, acts of terrorism and pandemics? Understanding the specific needs, strengths and responses of older people in disasters is an important piece of the puzzle but a recent scoping review found a paucity of research on this cohort (Fountain et al 2019).

People face disasters and traumatic events throughout their life course, with older people having a longer period over which they may have experienced such events and potentially also a longer period over which to reflect and grow following events. The resulting impacts are both immediate and longer-term. Individual and community resilience resulting from such experiences varies. How do policy makers and service providers support the diverse range of older people to prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters and traumatic events?

While older people might be considered more vulnerable to negative outcomes, studies indicate that many appear to have the same or greater capacity to bounce back from disasters or traumatic events when compared to younger people, this is referred to in the literature as gerotranscendance – the theory of positive changes relating to ageing. Older people can contribute to community responses in these circumstances through sharing knowledge and experiences of resilience or post-traumatic growth. How do relevant organisations recognise and harness older people’s strengths and experience.

Professor Paul Arbon is the 2021 Glenda Powell Travelling Fellow and will be presenting on and unpacking the 2021 Hot Topic, Disasters and Resilience.