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Five Essential Senior Care Questions for Disaster Preparedness

hurricane damage in FloridaBeing a senior care business dedicated to helping elders in Florida, we focus a lot of time and resources on hurricane preparedness this time of year.  Over the years, we have had numerous trainings and informational sessions for our staff and we have developed a process to assist our elder and disabled clients living in Florida with their planning.

As we go through initial planning with our clients, we share our knowledge of some of the ways they can minimize risk and discuss options.  Every client and family makes their own decisions about what risks they are willing to take and what plans they are comfortable with, but our goal is to arm them with better information as they make these decisions.  Aging Wisely also offers a Florida Hurricane Season Preparedness Package for Seniors and People with Special Needs.  If you know someone living in Florida who might need help with preparations and planning, we invite you to share this flier and contact us today.

You can find a number of articles on our site about disaster preparedness for seniors and important senior care issues during hurricane season.  We also recommend reading EasyLiving’s “Disaster Management for Alzheimer’s Caregivers” if you have a friend or loved one with dementia.  While there are many individual factors in planning, there are five essential questions that you should always answer in helping a senior with disaster preparedness plans:

1.  Is the physical structure adequate/reinforced to withstand storms?  Florida offers a wind mitigation handbook, which explains the benefits of mitigation efforts and suggested reinforcements to the home.  The most obvious of these is securing window openings, as we all have the picture in our heads of people putting up shutters or plywood prior to a storm.  Special shatter-resistant glass windows relieve the stress and physical burden of putting up shutters (if your loved one has shutters, it will be important to plan time/help to get them up for any storm), but can be quite expensive.  If windows need replacing in an older home, it may be worth considering though.  Check out the handbook and consider making the appropriate changes if the home has not already been reinforced. In addition to wind, flood risk is the other important area to consider.  This will be based primarily on the flood zone where you reside, though all residents should consider having sand bags on hand and acknowledge that flooding can be quite widespread due to heavy rains in addition to storm surge.

2.  Is the individual storm-ready?  Essentially, this means assessing the person’s risk and ability to self-preserve during/after the storm.  Key considerations include: dementia/memory problems, physical frailty or mobility issues, medical conditions, incontinence or self-care issues.  Remember that the aftermath of the storm is particularly dangerous, when services and supplies may be cut off for some time (and people often attempt repairs or get injured by environmental hazards).  Electricity can be out for weeks during even minor storms.  If the person relies on senior care services, consider alternative options such as staying with a loved one who can help or securing a respite spot in a well-located assisted living facility.

3.  Does the person have adequate supplies?  Put together a hurricane kit of supplies, food and water (we can help with this process for your Tampa Bay loved ones).  Depending on the situation, your loved one likely needs to have an in-home supply kit and a portable evacuation kit/bag.  Have an adequate supply of medications (Florida law allows for early refills to prepare for disasters), a list of medications, diagnoses and key contacts.  Keep an extra stock of any medical supplies or personal care products needed, as well as first aid items.  Check with your provider about medical equipment and what you can do if you are reliant on an electrically powered device (you should also get on the power company’s “priority reconnect list”).  Charged mobile phones (with an extra battery backup, solar charger, etc.) can be an important lifeline, and comfort to communicate to family members.

4.  Do you have realistic expectations about service and supply availability in the aftermath of a storm?  Hopefully, most senior care providers have become more realistic about setting expectations and helping you to understand that they cannot guarantee services during and after emergencies.  Providers must allow their own employees to prepare for and stay safe during storms.  Various agencies and services may have difficulty getting up and running for some time after a storm if infrastructure is damaged.  Groceries, gas and other essentials may be limited. Consider how this might affect your loved one in your planning.  If your loved one resides in an assisted living facility or nursing home, read their (state required) hurricane plan.  Ask questions if you see potential gaps or concerns for your loved one.  Know who to contact/how information will be communicated to you.

5.  What about the emotional toll and comfort issues of surviving a storm?  In addition to the basic supplies, comfort items (comfy pillow, stuffed animal, a favorite snack) and activities (books, puzzle books, games) can provide distraction and be comforting during the stress of a storm.  The preparation and anticipation itself can be very stressful.  Would your loved one be better off visiting with a loved one or friend who can provide comfort as well as help?  Would a group setting be better (we have had clients who actually enjoyed their “mini vacation” to assisted living when evacuating…definitely a more pleasant experience than sitting home in the dark worrying about what will happen).  If you are a caregiver, natural disasters can also be physically and emotionally draining for you.  Preparations can help reduce the strain, but stay aware of your own health and wellbeing.

We hope these questions help you to frame the planning process.  Seniors suffer the greatest injuries and fatalities during natural disasters.  While there is no way to eliminate all the risk of such disasters, it is important to examine ways to minimize risk and to take planning seriously.  If you have questions or need help for a senior in the Tampa Bay, Florida area, give us a call at 727-447-5845.  Our Senior Care Consultant, Sue Talbott, is ready to assist!

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Our goal is to enable every individual we work with to live the most fulfilling life possible, with utmost dignity, focusing on their physical, mental, spiritual, family and financial wellbeing.