Abstract: Wildfire and Older Adults: Impacts, Risks, and Interventions (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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448P Wildfire and Older Adults: Impacts, Risks, and Interventions

Saturday, January 14, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Colleen Cummings Melton, MSW, PhD Student, University of Denver, Graduate School of Social Work, Denver, CO
Carson DeFries, MSW, PhD Student, University of Denver
Rebecca Smith, MSW student, University of Denver, Denver, CO
Lisa Mason Reyes, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Denver, Denver, CO
Background and Purpose: Climate change is causing worsening disasters that disproportionately impact already marginalized and vulnerable populations. While social work research on climate change and disasters is growing, there is a need for topic diversification (Mason et al., 2017). One important gap in this research is the effects of wildfires. A scoping review found that of 112 articles analyzed, only 1.8% addressed bushfires (Mason et al., 2017). Meanwhile, wildfire activity, severity, and impact is on the rise, posing a threat to human health and well-being. Gamble (2013) reports that older adults experience greater risks and negative outcomes post-disaster, and wildfires pose a particularly dangerous threat to health outcomes associated with smoke and difficulty evacuating. While much research has examined the needs of older adults following hurricanes and flooding, the impact of wildfires on older adults is an important topic that has not been explored. To address this gap, a scoping review was conducted to answer the question: What is the extent and scope of literature on the disaster recovery cycle, risk, and/or impacts for older adults related to wildfires?

Methods: Authors used the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses extension for Scoping Reviews (PRISMA-ScR) to create the study protocol and reporting strategies, plus the six-stage process of Arksey and O’Malley (2005). With a university librarian, a comprehensive search string was developed, and ten databases were searched. Inclusion criteria were: 1) peer-reviewed journal article; 2) examines at least one topic related to the risk, disaster preparedness, disaster response, disaster recovery, disaster mitigation, or impacts from wildfires; and 3) examines how criterion 2 relates to older adults in at least one way. After duplicates were removed, authors screened 261 titles and abstracts and reviewed 138 articles in full. Seventy-three studies met inclusion criteria.

Results: Most articles focused on problem description (75.3%). Many of these focused on wildfire impact on morbidity and mortality, especially of respiratory or cardiovascular diseases, with 46.8% using secondary data such as hospital or mortality records. Only 35.6% of articles mentioned a response or intervention. Similarly, 46.6% focused on some part of the disaster recovery cycle, with the most prevalent being on response (31.5%) and the least prevalent being on recovery (6.9%). Over half (54.8%) of articles mentioned climate change or global warming, while 27.4% focused on adaptation, and 16.4% focused on mitigation. The importance of incorporating the knowledge of Indigenous elders in land and fire management was an emerging finding that 16.4% of articles addressed.

Conclusions & Implications: Findings suggest that social workers should advocate for adaptation measures to support older adults impacted by wildfires and for mitigation measures to address worsening wildfire severity. The prevalence of data on problem scope, especially negative health impacts, can be used to advocate for adaptation and mitigation in organizations (e.g., hospitals, nursing homes, in-home support services) and policy change (e.g., funding for weatherization, healthcare, warning systems). Overall, findings show a lack of focus on responses or interventions, noting an important area for future social work research and practice.