Disaster resilience in aging populations: lessons from the 2011 Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami

Ichiro Kawachi, Jun Aida, Hiroyuki Hikichi, Katsunori Kondo

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Recovery after major disaster poses a unique set of challenges for the older population, including disruption of medical care for pre-existing conditions, functional limitations that impede recovery, and social isolation following involuntary resettlement. In this review, we summarise the lessons about disaster resilience that have been learned (so far) from a unique ongoing field study based in a community that was affected by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. In the Iwanuma Study, baseline information about the health status and living conditions of older residents was collected seven months before the disaster. A follow-up survey was conducted 2.5 years after the disaster, allowing us investigate the risk and protective factors for a range of disaster-related health sequelae, including mental illness and cognitive disability. A consistent finding to emerge from our studies is the critical role of social connections (the ‘social capital’ of a community) in protecting against the deleterious after-effects of psychological trauma and involuntary resettlement following the disaster. In contrast to the emphasis on investing in material infrastructure to prepare for disasters, a review of our studies suggests that repairing (or at least preserving) the social fabric of people’s lives is a crucial ingredient in disaster resilience.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)263-278
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of the Royal Society of New Zealand
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2020 Apr 2


  • Disaster resilience
  • aging
  • dementia
  • disaster hazards cycle
  • social capital

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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