Aging in Flood-Prone Coastal Areas: Discerning the Health and Well-Being Risk for Older Residents
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Coastal communities are increasingly exposed to more intense and frequent hurricanes, accelerated sea-level rise, and prolonged tidal inundation, yet they are often a preferred retirement destination for older adults vulnerable to flooding and extreme weather events. The unique physical and psychosocial challenges of older population age 65 and over may affect their level of preparedness, capacity to cope with, and ability to respond and recover from a hazard event. Despite the clear vulnerabilities of older residents living in high-risk areas when compared to younger coastal populations, there is a lack of empirical research on the integrated flood risks to this population group in the coastal context. This paper provides a holistic assessment of this emerging problem along the U.S. East Coast by measuring the exposure of older population to sea level rise and storm surge in coastal counties. It further evaluates how age-related vulnerabilities differ between rural and urban settings using the case study approach and geospatial and statistical analysis the paper also conducts a review of scientific literature to identify gaps in the current understanding of health and well-being risks to aging populations in coastal communities. The results show that older populations are unevenly distributed along the U.S. East Coast with some states and counties having significantly higher percent of residents age 65 and older living along the shoreline. Many places with larger older populations have other attributes that further shape the vulnerability of this age group such as older housing stock, disabilities, and lower income and that often differ between rural and urban settings. Lastly, our study found that vast majority of research on aging in high-risk coastal locations has been conducted in relation to major disasters and almost none on the recurrent nuisance flooding that is already affecting many coastal communities.