Emergency Preparation for Family Caregivers
Involve your loved one's support team as you create a plan.
This summer’s massive "derecho" storm left many East Coast and Midwest seniors stranded in their homes. Falling trees blocked the roads around their homes and knocked down power lines, leaving these vulnerable elderly at risk of heat stroke and without vital medical equipment. Power failures are common during natural and man-made disasters. A poll in the August 2012 issue of Caring Right at Home revealed that 69 percent of readers experienced loss of electricity during the last year, with 38 percent of the outages spanning more than a day in duration.
Emergencies disrupt the lives of thousands of Americans each year, causing loss of life and property. These include natural disasters such as tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, wildfires, pandemic illness, hurricanes and extreme heat and cold, as well as man-made emergencies such as chemical spills, acts of terrorism and utility outages. Fortunately, in most cases, these events result in only inconvenience or at worst, property damage. But disasters also claim many lives each year, and a disproportionate number of the victims are seniors and people with disabilities.
Especially when they live at a distance, many family caregivers worry whether older loved ones are safe during dangerous conditions. News reports of an ice storm in their elderly mother’s Minnesota community, coupled with the resulting phone service disruptions, can leave adult children in sunny Phoenix with a sense of helplessness. Their concerns are well-founded. But they should turn fear into action, taking steps to help their elders prepare. Make emergency preparation a priority. It doesn’t have to be scary. It can be empowering!
If your loved one lives with you, take time now to make a family readiness plan to keep everyone in the household safe.
If your loved one lives in a nursing home, assisted living or other senior community, find out about the facility’s disaster plan, and learn how your loved one’s specific medical needs would be met during an emergency. Be sure the facility has your contact information.
Seniors with health and mobility challenges who live in their own homes are especially vulnerable. Plan ahead to ensure they could get the assistance they need to shelter in place or evacuate. Here are steps to take:
Make a plan. Learn about your community’s emergency preparedness resources and emergency services for seniors and people with special needs. Your community’s website or senior information line may have a directory of these services, or visit Disability.gov. During emergencies, local phone service may be down for an extended period, so designate a friend or family member who lives out of your loved one’s area as an alternate emergency contact.
Assemble an emergency supply kit. Have food, water and supplies available in case your loved one must shelter at home until help arrives. Assume there will be no power or water. A "grab and go" emergency evacuation bag also should be pre-packed in case your loved one must leave quickly. Click here to print a free checklist to use as you assemble these supplies. Inspect the kit regularly to be sure everything is up-to-date.
Prepare for power outages. Loved ones with medical needs such as dialysis, oxygen or infusion pump can be at grave risk if their medical regimens are interrupted. They should have access to a backup power source, such as a generator or battery, in the home or nearby. Have a manual wheelchair available if your loved one normally uses an electric wheelchair or scooter.
Create a support network. Learn the location of your loved one’s local emergency shelter, equipped if necessary with emergency generators and other preparations for people with special needs. You may be able to register with the local fire department or emergency services agency to let them know your loved one will need help. Ask neighbors or other people you trust if they would be willing to help your loved one in case of emergency.
In-Home Care Services Provide a Safety Net
Many families today choose in-home care to support elderly loved ones who are living at home. According to the National Association for Home Care & Hospice, home care is essential to disaster preparedness and response efforts for seniors and people with special needs. This is one of those times when working with a reputable agency that provides oversight and trained caregivers can make all the difference. Consult with the agency about their emergency preparedness plan. Select an agency that can arrange for a backup if the regular caregiver can’t make it to your loved one’s home. Discuss your disaster plans ahead of time—this is a conversation to have before the emergency!
Take an emergency preparation tour of your loved one’s home with your loved one’s professional caregiver. He or she should know how to shut off gas and electricity if necessary. The caregiver should know about other safety preparations and precautions, such as a generator and medical equipment. The caregiver's duties also might include a regular inspection of the emergency supply kit to be sure that food, water and medications are in good supply and not past their expiration date.
During emergencies, professional in-home caregivers can provide companionship, personal care and assistance in your loved one’s home if it is recommended to stay there. The caregiver also can help your loved one evacuate to the designated shelter or another safe location, providing extra assistance during this time when medical and emergency services will be very busy.
The caregiver and agency also can serve as a vital communication resource to keep long-distance caregivers advised and reassured about their loved one’s well-being.
The U.S. government’s disaster preparedness website, www.ready.gov, offers an online brochure with preparation tips for older adults.
The Disability.gov Emergency Preparedness website contains disaster preparation information and a searchable list of national and state resources.
The Food and Drug Administration offers information on preparing for power outages for medical devices that require electricity.
For information on topics related to home care and healthcare, visit our Home Care and Healthcare Advocacy group on LinkedIn.
Right at Home, Inc. is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned, franchised providers of in-home care services.