Home » News » New Algorithm IDs Vulnerable Elderly in Natural Disasters

New Algorithm IDs Vulnerable Elderly in Natural Disasters

Canadian researchers have developed a new algorithm which allows first responders and home care providers to better assist the elderly during natural disasters.

Older adults living at home face disproportionally high death rates during natural disasters, according to the World Health Organization. For instance, 71 percent of the deaths tied to Hurricane Katrina involved people over 60 years of age.

The algorithm delivers an up-to-date list of vulnerable adults who are in home healthcare. It factors in each person’s disability, health status, social isolation, and the amount of support they may receive from informal caregivers. Details of the algorithm appear in the Journal of Emergency Management.

“Frailty combined with social isolation can mean that older adults still living at home have nowhere to turn during emergencies,” said Dr. John Hirdes, a researcher in the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences at the University of Waterloo.

“With a growing proportion of elderly persons choosing to reside in their own homes, it’s a very real concern. Home care services need to have mechanisms in place to manage the needs of their most vulnerable clients during disasters.”

Hirdes is the senior Canadian researcher for interRAI, an international network of researchers committed to improving care and quality of life for vulnerable populations. The new algorithm pulls data from interRAI’s home care assessment to deliver an up-to-date list of vulnerable adults who are currently using home care services.

Currently, eight provinces/territories, including Ontario, have mandated the use of the interRAI assessment for long-stay home care clients. Those on the list are evaluated every six months to one year to determine their health status and service needs.

“Older adults living on their own are more difficult to locate and assist than those living in healthcare facilities,” said Dr. Sandy Van Solm, the Emergency Management Coordinator at the Region of Waterloo who developed the algorithm as part of her Ph.D. at Waterloo.

“This algorithm helps us to plan for disasters in advance and allows responders to quickly generate an accurate list of those who may need help during a disaster.”

Hirdes and Van Solm are working with the Canadian Institute for Health Information to deploy the algorithm into interRAI home care software used across Canada beginning in 2018.

“It has the potential to save hundreds of lives,” said Hirdes. “It’s a tool that should be top of mind for any part of the country at risk of natural disasters.”

Source: University of Waterloo

New Algorithm IDs Vulnerable Elderly in Natural Disasters

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2018). New Algorithm IDs Vulnerable Elderly in Natural Disasters. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 5 Feb 2018)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.