Living in Southern California during this time of year (Nov/Dec), there is often a tension as Santa Ana winds kick in and dry, hot winds blow in from the desert. This week, we have experienced and are experiencing devastating wild fires.
Of course, in the past few months we have seen horrific natural disasters in Texas, Louisiana and Florida. No one could have predicted these disasters and the heartbreaking loss that came from it. We all heard about the Florida nursing home that lost power and, as a result, 8 residents perished.
During the recent, and current, Southern California fires, a friend of ours was in the evacuation zone of the fast-moving Lilac fire. They have their 86-year-old mother, who is on oxygen and wheelchair-bound, with them. As they loaded the car, grabbed their important documents and photos, they worried about how to not only keep mom calm with minimal anxiety, but where do they go that could accommodate the wheelchair and mom’s needs.
So, for those who care for vulnerable senior loved ones, how do you prepare? Without a plan, panic can ensue when evacuation time is short. And, even if you are not evacuated, stress levels, anxiety and heightened emotions can become a concern. So, when these situations happen, it is important to have a plan in place to make sure your elderly loved one’s physical and emotional needs are taken care of. Here are 6 things to keep in mind:
1. Have a clear, thought-out emergency plan
Remember when a natural disaster hits, first responders and emergency services are tied up and could take hours to get to you. You must be prepared to take care for your loved one on your own. Your emergency plan needs to account for the individual needs whether it’s specific disability (wheel chair, walker, mental impairment) to medication needs.
Have several family members involved and fully aware of the emergency plan for your loved one. The responsibility should not just fall to one person. If at all possible, involve the entire family so that everyone knows the plan and is aware of necessary contingencies in the event of changing health conditions or in unexpected changes to the situation.
Remember to keep your senior loved one involved in the decision-making process. Keeping them informed helps lessen their concern and anxiety that their needs will be met.
2. Make a list
Create a basic emergency supply list of what your senior will need (think evacuation): eyeglasses, hearing aids, extra oxygen, medication, change of clothes, under-garments, etc.). The rule of thumb is to plan for no electricity for up to 3 days. Also, be sure to have a list of who you can call for assistance, as well as doctor and insurance phone numbers and documents.
3. Helping your loved one feel safe
Our natural response to a disaster is to incessantly watch/listen to what is happening. Where is the fire moving, how long before the hurricane hits land, who is affected, what is the expected impact…fear, fear, fear. We forget that our elderly loved one, or young kids for that matter, are also listening and watching. They may not have the emotional maturity or stability to process what is happening. They are not in control of whether they stay or go, the route taken, etc. This lack of control or understanding creates fear, nervousness and anxiety.
Remember they are looking to you, counting on you to keep them safe, to have a plan of action. It is up to you to remain calm, to maintain control, to be in authority. You are responsible to help your loved one feel safe.
Limit the news, calmly gather supplies and load the car. Give yourself plenty of time so you are not rushing or appear panicked. In your plan, know where you are going — shelter, hotel, friend or family’s house.
4. Have a supply of medication on hand
Of course, your loved one’s medications are critical. Depending on the natural disaster that hits, you may not have access to a pharmacy for days, or even a week or two. If possible, fill all prescriptions two weeks before they are empty. This gives you lots of leeway in the event of evacuation. Keep medications in grab-and-go containers for quick evacuation.
If there is even a chance that you and your loved one might get separated, write on their arm with a sharpie what medications they take and when, what condition they have, your phone number and any other important information to care for them.
5. Create a support network.
If your loved one still lives alone, or is alone in a home for any extended amount of time, make sure you have a support network established. Ensure there are several people who know where they are, have access to their home and can step in if disaster hits. These family members, friends or neighbors may be able to get to your loved one before you do.
Be sure to exchange important keys and share copies of medical and insurance documents. Make sure everyone knows the plan and you have a pre-established avenue of communication.
6. Be flexible and have Plan B & C ready to roll
When natural disasters occur, your Plan A no matter how well thought-out may run into unforeseen challenges. Roads closed, severe weather, the hotel is evacuated or closed. What is your Plan B, and does everyone know it?
If Plan A isn’t possible, it’s important to know if you can temporarily take your loved one to a residential-care home outside the disaster area or a friends home.
Even with the forewarning we now receive regarding impending weather-related events, disaster can strike when least expected. Know that emergencies can, and most likely will, happen. Being prepared, having a written plan, and an established network of support is your best defense in managing and caring for your loved one during a natural disaster. Stay safe out there.