RowanSOM granted $681k to research Superstorm Sandy’s affects on elderly

The full effect of Superstorm Sandy has lasted over a year and has spanned throughout various regions of the state. While some work to restore their communities and their own homes, Dr. Rachel Pruchno of the Rowan School of Osteopathic Medicine has begun research into what the storm has done to its most affected age group: the elderly.

Dr. Pruchno, the director of research at the New Jersey Institute for Successful Aging at the RowanSOM, received a two-year, $681,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to look into how the storm affected the lives of 3,200 older people who lived in the counties most damaged by the storm.

Dr. Pruchno said that the concept for the study’s background was established in 2006 when she first collected data on the participating group and their communities.

“We collected more data on them in 2011, too, so from there we can look at what effects the storm had on them and how community resilience, or the connection of people in neighborhoods, can affect their lives,” Dr. Pruchno said.

Dr. Pruchno said that she expects to discover that older people living in more “connected neighborhoods” will have fared better so far, but that theory is inconclusive at the moment.

“We have a situation of people having different amounts of exposure to the storm in the state,” Dr. Pruchno said.

Dr. Pruchno added that she believes that the storm has had similar effect as the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and Hurricane Katrina did on communities.

“Some areas were absolutely destroyed,” Dr. Pruchno said. “I’ve studied stress before and how people age from it, and a hurricane is a huge stressor that can affect a lot of people at one time.”

As the study progresses, Dr. Pruchno is hoping for more involvement from the Rowan student body.

“Hopefully some of the students will get interested and want to do an internship or something on this project,” Dr. Pruchno said.

Dr. Pruchno said she has another grant coming in the near future, and that the developing research can only help RowanSOM’s growth as a research institution. 

“It’s really exciting for Rowan that we’re going toward that,” Dr. Pruchno said. “It will be good for region and for putting Rowan on the map.”

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