This week I would like to explore some of the special preparedness needs of the senior and elderly members of our families and communities. At first blush, you may be saying, "Yes, I understand that there are elderly people but how would their needs be any different than mine?".
That is a great question and certainly one that I have asked myself. But consider this: the elderly are less mobile and far less likely to be able to evacuate on their own. Their eating habits may be more finicky and, for health reasons, restricted. The need for life-sustaining prescription medications and medical devices increases with age, and perhaps most difficult of all, the sense of fear may result in profound depression as the familiar and comforting world around them has changed.
For those embarking upon the family preparedness lifestyle, it is important to consider the special needs of elderly adults and to help educate and assist them now, before they experience a true stuff hits the fan situation caused by natural, man-made or economic disasters.
The checklist below is designed to be shared one on one with members of our older adult population (our moms and dads, grandparents, and neighbors). Review this list and use it as a guideline for initiating a discussion with these important members of our community.
1. Prepare Now for a Sudden Emergency
In the event of a disaster, local and rescue workers will do their best to arrive quickly but there may be physical or other impediments to a swift recovery effort. The key is to prepare now for a sudden emergency. Here are some things you can do:
Assemble a disaster kit that includes food, water, first aid items, a flashlight, batteries and some cash.
Arrange to have someone check on you on a periodic basis.
Plan and practice the best escape routes from your home.
Get to know the types of emergencies most likely to occur in your geographical area and find a safe place to shelter in your home if disaster strikes.
Create window signs that you can use to signal the need for assistance.
Post emergency phone numbers close to your phone. Do not rely on your memory. If you require special equipment (medical devices, oxygen, wheel chairs), keep a list and the location of operating instructions handy so that rescue workers can find them. Be prepared to defend yourself. Get some pepper spray or even some aerosol hair spray to squirt at an intruder who is trying to loot or otherwise steal your stuff.
2. Take Care of Your Medical Needs
Assemble some spare medical supplies in an easy-to-carry, transportable container such as a backpack, shoulder bag, or duffle bag.
Include a 7 to 14 days supply of prescription medicines and be sure to include written instructions regarding the dosage, and a list of allergies, if any.
Pack up an extra pair of glasses (even if they are old) and hearing aid batteries
Label your stuff. This includes your bags or other containers, walkers, canes, wheelchairs or anything else that you are likely to need.
Make a copy of your medical insurance and Medicare cards and include them with your medical supplies along with a listing of your doctors Also include a list of the style and serial number of medical devices such as pacemakers. Share copies of these documents with a trusted family member or friend.
3. Prepare for a Possible Evacuation
Learn how to shut off water, gas and electricity.
If you can, take your pets with you. But, also keep in mind that pets may not allowed in shelters. Ask! If not, you will need to allow for sufficient food and water for an extended period. Put a sign in the window indicating that there are pets inside.
Leave a note taped to the refrigerator or elsewhere indicating when you left and where you are going.
4. Assess Your Physical Limitations and Coordinate a Plan for Assistance in Advance
Contact a friendly neighbor in advance and make them aware that you have limitations that will preclude your evacuation in an emergency. Ask for their assistance in helping you or in contacting family members.
In the event of an evacuation, wear warm clothing (even if it is hot outside) and sturdy shoes. You can always peel away the extra clothing later if you are too warm.
Make sure that someone you know has an extra key to your home and knowledge of where you keep your emergency supplies.
If you don’t already have one, get a cell phone. In most recent disasters, cell phone service was active long before land lines became functional.
What else can you do?
In addition to having a discussion with the older adults in your life, I would like to suggest that you help them gather supplies and educate them regarding the proper storage of extra food and water. You know what I am talking about: keep your supplies sealed and keep them cool.
You also might want to consider putting a Bug Out Bag together to give to them as gift, or to take them shopping to purchase the necessary supplies.
Perhaps most important of all, you can start to educate the elderly so that when and if the time comes, they are less fearful and less inclined to panic or worst case, shut down completely.
I highly recommend that you download this free booklet, Red Cross Disaster Preparedness for Seniors By Seniors which was written a group of older adults who experienced a two-week power outage during an ice storm. It is excellent.