May 15th, 2013 at 10:00 am
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Preparing for disasters: strategies for caregivers and elders

by Dorian Martin

I live about three hours from the U.S. Gulf Coast, which means I occasionally am right in the line of hurricanes. I’ve weathered several, and have been fortunate to avoid any damage. But now with Dad living with me, I’m becoming much more vigilant about preparedness in case of violent weather.

As we enter a season when many parts of the United States face natural disasters (hurricanes! tornadoes! wildfires!), it’s time to get prepared. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Aging recommends a three-step approach for caregivers and older adults: know the basics, have supplies and make a personal disaster plan. It can be hard for anyone to think clearly in the midst of a crisis, so it’s helpful to have a checklist to help you remember items such as medications.

Caregivers and seniors: plan for the worst

Take care of the basics prior to an emergency. If you’re new in the community, find out the risks in that particular area (earthquakes? gale-force winds?). Meet your neighbors and build a support network. Find out important information like the following:

  1. Location of the controls for water, gas and electricity are so you can turn them off if need be
  2. Recommended evacuation routes from your community
  3. Transportation options available for you and your elder
  4. Location of the nearest emergency shelter

Establish a contact person outside of the area who can be a relay point in case you have limited phone service. If you have a car, keep it ready to go, and keep gas in the tank. Gather enough supplies prior to any emergency situation, when you could either be stuck in your home or be forced to leave it.

Being stranded in your home

Supplies should include everything you, your family and your elder would need to survive at home until help arrives. A possible list would include:

  1. Food (non-perishable items that don’t require cooking that will feed your household for up to six days)
  2. Water (one gallon per person with enough water to last 3-6 days)
  3. All medications with quantities for up to six days
  4. Items like a flashlight, extra batteries, portable radio, first-aid kit, hand-operated can opener, water-proof matches and light sticks
  5. A charged cell phone
  6. Cash or traveler’s checks
  7. An emergency contact list

Leaving home suddenly

Set up an evacuation bag customized for each person and partially packed in case you need to leave home quickly. This bag should include at least the following:

  1. Personal hygiene supplies
  2. An extra pair of prescription glasses
  3. Fresh clothes
  4. Rain gear
  5. Walking shoes
  6. A blanket or sleeping bag
  7. Dust masks
  8. Copies of the emergency contact list
  9. A list of current medications and a summary of medical information
  10. 1-2 bottles of water
  11. Nutrition bars and hard candy
  12. Food and anything else a pet might need

Getting personal

Develop a personal plan for individual needs. For instance, some elders need dialysis or an oxygen tank in their daily lives. Planning may increase the likelihood that the elder’s medical needs for these kinds of services can be met. Work with your home health care service, the local fire department or office of emergency services to prepare this plan and make sure that help is available.

For individuals with dementia or memory loss, it’s important to have a medical summary written up in case the caregiver has an emergency, or elders are separated from their companions. Kathryn Kilpatrick writes about taking charge of medical information in this way and planning ahead in case of medical emergencies.

Take a little time now to get ready, just in case, and you and your elder can be more relaxed if dangerous weather is forecast. And if something does happen, then you, your family and your elder can feel better prepared.

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