Over the last few months, a string of natural disasters have hit the United States. In late August, Hurricane Harvey inundated Houston with record rainfall, and the subsequent flooding displaced some 32,000 people. Just a couple weeks later, Florida Governor Rick Scott ordered the evacuation of nearly seven million residents as Irma – another massive category 5 hurricane – threatened the state. This month, we’ve watched terrible wildfires sweep through Northern California. By some estimates the flames have claimed 5,700 structures, leaving entire neighborhoods devastated. To date, 41 people have died as a result of the fires. In Sonoma Country alone 17 lives were lost, and so far, eight of the 10 identified dead were over the age of 7o. This final statistic points to a sobering, and sometimes overlooked fact. Seniors are especially vulnerable in the event of natural disasters.
In each of the above events, a natural threat forced residents from their homes. Unfortunately, the limitations that come with age make it impossible for many seniors to evacuate themselves. Maybe it’s because they no longer drive or suffer from a physical handicap that makes moving difficult. Perhaps they live in a group care setting and are completely dependent on others. Whatever the reason, many seniors need help – from authorities, family members, or neighbors – to escape an immediate danger. As with all natural disasters, proper planning is the key to mitigating danger. So what can you do to help your older loved one prepare?
Preparing for Natural Disasters
In the event of a predictable natural disaster like a storm, the first step will be to remove your elderly loved one from the path of the disaster. To do this, start by asking three questions:
- Who will be responsible for physically moving your loved from their home?
- How will they be transported out of the area?
- Where will they stay once they’re out of danger?
Ideally this won’t fall entirely on your shoulders. A strong network of family and friends can work together to form an effective plan. Remember that your loved one’s physical state may require specific answers to the above three questions. If they’re medically fragile, an ambulance may be the only transportation option. But even relatively healthy seniors have difficulty riding in a car for extended periods of time. If your loved requires assisted living, it might be necessary to arrange a short-term stay in another facility. This is all predicated on having a complete picture of your loved one’s medical situation, which leads us into the second phase of planning.
Understand the Care Plan
If you’re not already communicating regularly with your loved one’s caregivers, you should start now. Their medical needs won’t stop in the face of a disaster, and in many cases could get much worse. To plan for this, you’ll need a clear summary of your loved one’s medical conditions, treatments, prescriptions, and other relevant facts. Ideally, you’ll collect all this information in a handy document you can then turn over to another medical professional or caregiver. Your loved one’s primary care provider or in-home caregiver should already have this information, so it should just be a matter of asking.
Stock Up on the Essentials
Of course not all disasters are predictable. To plan for this your senior loved one should have a stocked emergency kit ready should the unexpected arise. With that in mind, The American Red Cross put together a disaster preparedness document specifically designed for seniors, which you can read here. They suggest you collect important items like extra medication, copies of financial documents, and personal identification into a bag you can carry with you if necessary. If your loved one isn’t capable of doing this by themselves, it might be necessary to assemble their kit for them.
Communication is Key
Creating a truly effective disaster preparedness plan requires lots of healthy communication between family members and caregivers. It might take some work to put a plan in place, and some might think it’s unnecessary to plan for something that may never happen. But in light of recent events, it’s clear that those with a plan are better able to deal with the unexpected. And when it comes to your elderly loved ones, this is another good way to show them you care.