by Anna Birk
Climate change continues to overshadow society, prompting many to make lifestyle changes. Many, however, have not considered that it is often more difficult for older adults to make lifestyle changes. Older adults may have networking issues and a lack of mobility, making it harder to be prepared for extreme weather events.
Melissa Damico, a second-year environmental studies major at Ohio University, chose to tackle this issue by creating an outlet called the Grey-Green Alliance. Her opportunity came from a research apprenticeship through Ohio University’s Honors Tutorial College and allowed her to work alongside Geoffrey Dabelko, Ph.D., of the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs at OU.
The apprenticeship gave Damico the opportunity to gain research experience in Columbus and, during the summer of 2019, work beside Age-Friendly Columbus.
Age-Friendly is an organization through the World Health Organization that aims to ensure a high quality of life for all persons.
“It’s actually an initiative from the World Health Organization … there are Age Friendly areas all over the world and I believe they’re over 900 Age-Friendly counties,” Damico said. “It’s a really large organization and nationally, it’s facilitated by AARP. They’re just trying to increase the social efficiency and the autonomy of older adults and make sure that they’re not forgotten in policy decisions.”
The focus on older adults is what drove Damico to pursue the Grey-Green Alliance. She was able to partner with Dabelko’s sister, Holly Dabelko-Schoeny, Ph.D., a gerontologist in the College of Social Work at Ohio State University, for her work. The two professors were able to connect their two fields to help Damico. The name for the alliance is a play on words but also hints at the overall intent; Ohio University Green, Ohio State University Gray, the green for the environment, and the gray for older adults.
“They were just kind of talking at a dinner table and were like … ‘Where is there an overlap between our fields?’ It was basically my job, during the research apprenticeship, to figure out where the overlap was,” Damico said.
Through her research with Age-Friendly, Damico found that there are eight domains in which climate change has an impact. Three of the largest domains are transportation, housing and emergency planning. Damico decided to narrow her focus to emergency preparedness for older adults in Franklin County, Ohio.
Damico focused on emergency preparedness because the amount of weather-related incidents has rapidly increased and it is harder for older adults to maintain safety. Many older adults are vulnerable to weather-related incidents because of mobility; if a flash flood leads to a power outage and they don’t have access to a car, a medical prescription could be inaccessible. Older adults also tend to have a smaller social circle, which can lessen their resilience during these types of events.
All of these factors led Damico’s research toward making sure older adults in Franklin county are aware of the impacts of climate change and what to do when intense climate-caused weather events occur.
“I provide them with a checklist … and tools to effectively work through that checklist so they weren’t overwhelmed because every time you look at an emergency preparedness guide, I feel like you’d get so overwhelmed when you’re an older adult trying to prepare,” she said.
Damico also outlined how older adults often do not have a large social circle; her checklist and future planning would allow older adults to form a community. People from across a county would be able to connect with each other in an emergency situation, providing helpful evacuation planning if need be.
Damico is working to bring the Grey-Green Alliance to Athens and beyond. With the help of Dabelko, the hope is to take the Grey-Green Alliance to an international level through Age-Friendly resources. Along with making the alliance an international outlet, Damico also hopes to make it a non-profit by the time she graduates in 2022.
“Being institutionalized, or going to a nursing home, significantly decreases your life expectancy,” Damico said. “Living alone, being independent, having social circles and things to do really allows them to live longer and live happier lives.”