Seniors and Disaster Preparedness
Senior citizens are particularly vulnerable during emergency situations – hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, even heat waves. Sixty (60) percent of people who died in Louisiana as a result of Hurricane Katrina were older than 60.
Disaster preparedness can seem daunting but it's certainly doable. Thankfully, there are resources available towards helping the elderly.
"Getting prepared for disasters is something that can be quite easy, it's a positive experience and you'll feel good about it when you're done," says Alicia Blater, a graduate student in University of North Carolina-Greensboro's Gerontology Program who created a disaster preparedness guide for senior center directors and others who work with older adults. "It doesn't have to be overwhelming."
If Your Relative Lives in a Facility
If your elderly loved one is in a managed care facility or senior neighborhood, talk with the facility staff and management about emergency preparedness. Here are some questions and ideas to get you started.
Can you show me your disaster plan?
"Most facilities have a plan and make sure that the staff is well advised and well trained on what to do in an emergency," says Stacy English, marketing director of Home Instead Senior Care. "But family members need to ask questions when they do admit their mom or dad to the facility."
"Facilities might say they have a plan, but when families and staff are sitting down and sharing plans, the information can improve," says Blater, who suggests asking things like "How can I help my family member be more prepared?" or "Can I tell you what I'm doing and can we help each other out?"
What are the plan logistics?
For example, how does the staff help residents on upper levels get down stairs in an emergency situation? What about less mobile patients—how do you evacuate them?
Who is in charge of making the evacuation decision?
WHN Tip: If the facility is located near the coastline, ask if do they have connections with facilities inland, and if so, which ones and where.
"Make sure that the emergency plan has layers and complexities to it to see that they've thought it all through." Lynn Pharr, director of Crisis Preparedness Response and Recovery at United Way.
Do Your Part
Whether in a senior care facility or living independently, seniors need a "Grab and Go" kit and an understanding of the evacuation plan of action.
Grab and Go Kit —a kit packed with all the most important possessions and vital items for you and your family. (Think cash, meds, health and other important information.) Go to Home Grab-and-Go Kit for more information.
WHN Expert Tip: "When parents, grandparents or older friends and relatives get hard to buy for, preparedness items are great birthday gifts! Get flashlights, extra batteries, bottled water - things they'd probably never buy for themselves." Lynn Pharr, director of Crisis Preparedness Response and Recovery at United Way
Disaster Plan — what they will do and where they will go if a disaster strikes. Here are points to think about when creating a disaster plan for your family member:
If a hurricane is pending, who will help evacuate?
If a tornado or severe storm warning is issued, who will call your older relative/friend to tell them to get into a safe location? Who will take them there or how will they get there?
Do you need to find someone to check on your older relative/friend every now and then, especially before and after severe weather?
WHN Expert Tip: "It's best to have a team of people to help because you don't know who is going to be able to help and when," says Pharr.
If you're talking with a senior who lives independently, talk them what plans they may already have, such as a place to go, contact information for nearby neighbors, etc.
"I was recently in my parent's home in Arkansas… the tornado sirens went off. My parents are in their 70s, but they had a plan and we got in the closet," says Pharr. "Due to my line of work, I had bought them preparedness items over the years and in that closet they had them all lined up on a shelf – crank radio, flashlight, batteries, water. My mom said 'Hon, you can crank the radio!' And we waited out the storm."
Need More Help?
We've got it for you! We've pulled together some smart ideas from experts and people around the country on preparedness.
Get Prepared: Earthquakes [WHN page link TK]
Revisit Your Plans
Blater stresses that, while you may have made disaster preparedness plans for the entire family, you need to revisit and update them periodically!
"Six month out on your calendar, write 'Let's check Mom's kit'," says Blater, to update it with fresh water, food, contact information, and up-to-date medications. "It's a continual process to stay prepared. Often we have new phone numbers, jobs, medications — much more than we used to."
Even if you do not have the time to devote to a full disaster plan, every little bit helps. "There's lots of power in having what we need to be prepared and peace of mind knowing that loved ones are cared for," Blater says. "We can't do everything but we can do our best."
For more information, read Disaster Planning Tips From the Red Cross" on the Triangle J Area on Aging website.
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