If you care for an elderly loved one, it is vital to plan for emergencies. This article covers some important pointers for preparing for hurricane season, much of which applies to a variety of types of natural disasters. You may also wish to use EasyLiving’s Disaster Preparedness Checklist and Checklist for Hurricane Planning for Pets and Nine Tips for Seniors Preparing for Hurricane Season.
Some important pointers when preparing for the safety of someone with special needs:
If you or a loved one has in-home care, find out about their emergency plan (agencies are required to have a plan registered with the state, but if you have private caregivers any arrangements are made at your own risk). Discuss availability of staff, what you can expect, and rates/arrangements.
Get an emergency supply of medications. Insurance companies make provisions so that you can get extra emergency supplies; just inquire as to how you go about doing so. Here is some information for Medicare recipients about getting medications and care during emergencies.
Be realistic about a loved one’s ability to manage in a storm situation at home alone. Talk to your loved one about your concerns and discuss options for possible evacuation or alternative stays (at receiving care facilities, with a family friend, etc.). For situations in which one spouse or family member is caregiver for another, also consider the challenges that may arise during and after a storm. As long as a person is competent, he/she can refuse to evacuate, but continue to reinforce your concerns and offer alternatives (leading up to the season and then again as a potential storm approaches). Read more about assessing an elder’s options.
Consider how storm effects could impact your loved one’s health and comfort. Even a minor storm may cause electricity and other infrastructure to be impacted, and residents may have to manage without electric and water for some time. You can imagine the impact this would have on someone, for example, with a respiratory ailment or incontinence. Stress and lack of services can also make the time after a storm very difficult. For a person with Alzheimer’s disease, the stress, lack of lights, and change in routine can cause great anxiety.
If your loved one cannot manage on his/her own, a special needs shelter should be the backup plan only if other options are exhausted or unavailable.
Make sure any elderly or disabled loved ones are registered with the county emergency services. They should be aware of the person and his/her needs, in case of the need for backup assistance. Remember that emergency personnel may not be available as the storm nears, so if a person refuses to evacuate he or she cannot expect last minute assistance.
Take into account your loved one’s special needs in evacuation planning. What equipment must be brought along? How will the person do if stuck in a car in traffic for long periods? (Always evacuate early when dealing with someone with special needs to better ensure safety and a smoother evacuation.)
Make a list of key contacts that you can include in your evacuation kit and/or for families at a distance (doctor, family members, healthcare providers, neighbors, etc.). Have this information, along with basic medical history and list of medications.
If your loved one resides in a care facility, ask to review the disaster plan (as required by the state) and get contact information for inquiring about your loved one after the storm. Facilities are required to maintain basic supplies, but you may wish to prepare a small emergency kit for your loved one that will provide extra comfort during a storm. Facilities generally have emergency generators, but these are often used to power minimal lighting for safety and essential medical equipment only.
Contact eldercare providers as part of your elderly hurricane planning. For example, home care providers may be able to assist with shopping for hurricane supplies and preparing an emergency kit. A professional geriatric care manager can be hired to complete an assessment and create a care plan for your elderly loved one.
Local assisted living facilities and nursing homes may serve as receiving facilities for those needing a safer place to stay during approaching storms, but arrangements should be made in advance for the necessary admissions procedures.
If you are a caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s Disease/dementia, you may wish to review our considerations for Alzheimer’s Care During Natural Disasters.
Additionally, Aging Wisely offers “insider tips” learned from years of helping elderly clients prepare for hurricane season in Florida.
To get more information about Medicare, read Shannon Martin's article, "Does Medicare Cover Home Health Care?" here.
Shannon Martin, M.S.W., CMC, is Director of Communications at Aging Wisely, LLC (http://www.agingwisely.com), a professional care management and patient advocacy organization and EasyLiving, Inc. (www.easylivingfl.com), a licensed home care agency, in Clearwater, FL. Shannon serves as adjunct professor at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, FL, where she created a course on “Eldercare”. Prior in her career, Shannon served as social services director and admissions coordinator in an assisted living/skilled nursing facility and worked as a social worker and volunteer coordinator for a large hospice.