A new study provides strong evidence that a natural disaster can significantly increase the mortality rate among people with diabetes, ages 65 and older.
For the study, researchers from The University of South Florida and the Texas A&M Health Science Center in Houston examined Medicare claims data for people with diabetes aged 65 to 99, in Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, and Alabama. They focused on those who lived in the states on August 29, 2005, the time period right beforeHurricane Rita and Hurricane Katrina struck the region. They then zeroed in on Medicare claims for roughly 170,000 people with diabetes who were in counties directly affected by the two storms; those claims, in some cases, included mortality data.
The researchers found that those with diabetes who were older than 65 and in the affected counties had a 40% higher risk of death in the first month after the two hurricanes. That risk fell to 6% by the end of the first year of observation, but remained highest for those who needed to move to a different county because of the storms.
The researchers were frank about the limitations of the analysis. They pointed out that they lacked cause-of-death data after the first year of the 10 years of data analyzed, and that they were only analyzing the most extreme medical outcome that could be studied – death. However, they say these preliminary findings point to the need for an immediate health care response after a major storm event.
There is growing awareness among diabetes advocacy organizations that people with diabetes need vital support immediately after a natural disaster. That understanding was the impetus behind the formation of the Diabetes Disaster Response Coalition (DDRC), which provides information to help people with diabetes prepare for natural disasters and find the medical resources needed in the immediate aftermath of such a disaster. (T1D Exchange, the publisher of this publication, is part of this coalition.)
DDRC Co-Chair Carol Atkinson says she welcomes a study that validates the important work that must be done to support people with diabetes in harm’s way. Atkinson also is Director of Insulin for Life USA, which provides diabetes supplies for those affected by disasters.
“The DDRC appreciates the opportunity for this study to further reveal the difficult challenges our most vulnerable community members faced in the aftermath of Hurricanes Rita and Katrina,” said Atkinson in a statement. “Learning lessons from the past, we desire to equip those affected by disasters to be prepared to safely navigate the challenges associated with disasters.”
The DDRC recommends, among other things, that people with diabetes prepare for the possibility of a disaster by creating a diabetes kit that can be stored in a waterproof container. That kit should contain the documents, medical information, and extra supplies that people with diabetes would need to stay healthy during a prolonged emergency.
To learn more about how people with diabetes can prepare for a natural disaster, click here.