Vulnerability of Seniors to a Changing Climate

From fall of 2014 through spring of 2015, Center researcher Jason Rhoades engaged the senior citizen community of Bridgeport in a collaborative process to examine their vulnerability to climate change and develop strategies to enhance their resilience.  In addition to offering insights into the impacts of climate change on the elderly, the project also presents a potential framework for engaging vulnerable groups in participatory adaptation planning.  The complete dissertation describing the project and research can be found at:

Recent reports highlight the vulnerability of the elderly to climate change.  Unfortunately, a lack of research incorporating the perspectives of the elderly on this topic could cause their needs to go unrecognized and unaddressed.  To promote adaptation planning that is responsive to the concerns of the elderly, this dissertation presents the results of a participatory research and adaptation planning process conducted in partnership with the elderly community of Bridgeport, Connecticut.  The process combined a five-step climate change adaptation planning model with a community-based action research approach that placed the elderly participants as key drivers in the research and planning processes. For this research, the elderly participants began by exploring their vulnerability to current and predicted climate stressors including extreme heat, flooding, storms, and air pollution.  They then developed adaptation goals and strategies.  Finally, a summative evaluation assessed the planning process itself.  Among the key findings, this research identified personal attributes, including health, economic, and social characteristics, that interact with a range of contextual factors to influence the elderly population’s vulnerability.  As a result, predicted climate changes could have serious consequences for Bridgeport’s elderly.  Participants recommended adaptation goals and strategies to enhance their resilience with a focus on encouraging preparedness and providing community services including warning mechanisms, resources to secure safe shelter, transportation resources, as well as resources to aid in coping and recovery.   A prioritization exercise showed that participants believed all the suggestions were likely to be effective and feasible to implement.  Furthermore, the summative evaluation revealed that the participatory planning process enhanced the elderly’s resilience by raising awareness and understanding, increasing communication, and strengthening elders’ ability to self-advocate.  Key themes that contributed to the process’s effectiveness included the value of collaborating with local organizations, fostering an accessible and inclusive process, connecting subject matter with the day-to-day concerns of participants, and using an iterative process to build the capacity of participants.  While limited to a single case study, this research offers potentially transferable insights into the broader elderly community’s vulnerability to climate change and presents a model for engaging vulnerable groups in adaptation planning.

For more information on the research, contact Jason Rhoades at: 603-283-2346 /


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