We propose to investigate the trajectories of functional status (mobility, activities of daily living, onset of disability) among survivors of th March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami in northeast Japan. Our study is in response to PA-11-263 which calls for "research on the consequences of disaster for the health of the elderly with the ultimate goal of preventing and mitigating harmful consequences". Our proposed study will leverage baseline data that were collected as part of a national cohort study (the J-AGES - the JApan Gerontological Evaluation Study) from a town located in the disaster zone seven months prior to the March 11 event. Some areas of the town of Iwanuma, Miyagi Prefecture, which were close to the shore were inundated by the tsunami, while parts that were further inland were spared. Of the population of 44,184, about 180 residents have been reported dead or missing, while 6,600 were evacuated to temporary shelters. Baseline data prior to the tsunami were obtained from 5,060 residents of Iwanuma who were 65 years and older. The research team has permission to repeat the survey in 2014. This design will allow us to address two specific aims: 1) to examine the impact of exposure to disaster (loss of loved ones, loss/damage to property, disruptions in access to health services) on the trajectory of functional status and disability onset among elders;and 2) to examine the impact of pre- disaster variations in community social cohesion on the trajectory of functional decline among disaster-exposed residents over a period of 3 years. Our proposal is innovative in three ways: 1) Strong causal design. We address the two major limitations of disaster research: the availability of pre-disaster information on health status as well as predictors;and the use of appropriate comparison groups, i.e. residents living in the same town who happened to be in locations that the tsunami did not reach;2) Focus on the long-term physical health sequelae of disaster in the elderly - in addition to gathering information about mental health;3) Focus on community-level social determinants of recovery in addition to studying individual-level predictors. We bring together an experienced team of investigators from the United States and Japan noted for their expertise in social epidemiology, multilevel analysis, gerontology and aging.
The incidence of natural disasters is increasing worldwide. The significance of our study is that by identifying the individual and community-level factors that predict variations in health outcomes following such events, our study will assist in disaster preparedness as well as the targeting of long-term recovery efforts to groups and communities with greatest need.