Natural disasters affect everyone, but older adults are more vulnerable than others for a variety of reasons, including limited physical mobility, chronic health conditions and social and economic limitations. In fact, research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that more than half of older adults had some kind of functional limitation.
If you're caring for or have an elderly loved one, it's important to have a plan in place in case a natural disaster strikes. It's a plan that potentially needs to accommodate a number of factors, from medications and medical devices to assistance with daily activities of living.
What follows are some steps you can take to make sure the elderly adult you know or care for is protected during a natural disaster.
1. Have medications ready
It's vital that your elderly loved one has their medications with them during a time of evacuation. Adverse health events are more likely to occur if essential medications for chronic diseases aren't available, especially for older adults with a history of heart attack, stroke, diabetes or cancer therapies, among others. Without his or her medications, the older adult is at risk for health issues that would require emergency care.
That said, it's a great idea to keep their medications in easy-to-grab containers during a quick evacuation. Experts also recommend making a photocopy of prescriptions to make it easier to get refills from a different location.
2. Let others know
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recommends making sure your cell phone, laptop or other mobile devices are fully charged when you know a storm is coming.
However, since lines of communication may be limited or even lost during a natural disaster, it’s important to plan ahead for alternative ways to let family, friends and neighbors know where you and your elderly loved one can be found. Keep a stash of quarters to use at phone booths in case
your cell phone no longer works, plus a list of any relevant phone numbers you may not know by heart.
3. Have a detailed emergency plan in place
It's important to be specific when it comes to being prepared for a natural disaster. Things can get hectic during the actual disaster, and explicit instructions with specific times, places, and things that need to be done will help avoid confusion during a time of extreme stress.
The plan may include other priorities, including:
- What to do with pets - Most shelters don't allow pets, so talk with the local animal shelter or a veterinarian to learn about emergency options. Also, make provisions to include any food or supplies for the pet.
- How to transport other devices - Older adults may require mobility, assistive or communication devices that must come with them during an evacuation.
- Choose a meeting place - It's recommended that families designate a secure rendezvous point away from home that's convenient for everyone.
- Have copies of essential documents - Make sure to have copies of essential documents, such as Medicare, Medicaid and other insurance cards, birth certificate, Social Security card, etc. It's also wise to bring a small amount of cash.
Don't constantly watch or listen to news of the disaster in front of your elderly loved one unless you absolutely must. This can make someone who already feels vulnerable more anxious and nervous. Instead, quietly prepare for the evacuation by gathering supplies.
Move quickly but don't rush, while also leaving yourself ample time to do what needs to be done. Moreover, know where you're going, whether it's to a family member's house, a hotel, or a shelter while making sure everyone knows of your plans ahead of time.
5. Have backup
Designate a backup person, whether it's a neighbor or close friend who lives nearby to check on - and if needed, evacuate - your loved one in the event that you can’t be there yourself. Make sure that you have a reliable way to reach them and that they’re able to easily get in touch with your elderly loved one. This is particularly crucial if you're a long-distance caregiver.