Elders die in recent heat wave: Example of heightened vulnerability

The Washington Post reported that 32 people between the ages of 60 and 90 died in a recent heat wave in Brazil. One of the concepts of Social Role Valorization theory is called ‘heightened vulnerability.’ What does that mean? Some groups of socially devalued people are at greater risk of bad things happening to them, and these bad things will likely hurt them more than the average citizen. That is heightened vulnerability.

You or I might feel too hot or get thirsty quicker during a heat wave. For vulnerable people who are societally devalued, however, the same heat wave can be life-threatening, as just happened in Brazil and has happened many other times (such as in France a few years back in 2003, when thousands of elders died). Perhaps they also have asthma, cannot afford air conditioning, are a bit forgetful and so don’t drink enough water, or are so lonely and isolated that no one checks in to make sure they are okay. That is heightened vulnerability.

Many experiences can exacerbate a socially devalued person or group’s heightened vulnerability, such as loss of a loved one, a sickness, a rude comment from another person, having to move, losing a job, and so on. You or I likely have enough ‘resources’ (such as friends, family, security, money, home, work, etc.) that we can weather a sickness, a rude look or comment, moving our home, even something as significant as loss of a spouse. However, what for most people (of valued social status) might be an inconvenience or even a real hurt can be, for a societally devalued person, like the straw that broke the camel’s back, making a vulnerable person even more socially devalued, and can be a devastating wounding experience that they are not able to recover from.

Posted on February 15, 2010 at 9:21 am by MTumeinski · Permalink
In: Uncategorized · Tagged with: , , ,

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