Emergency Preparedness for seniors

All of us need to be prepared for emergencies common for our area. However, seniors have some special needs and considerations when preparing for a bad storm or other natural disaster. Below is a top 10 list for seniors, followed by a few additional tips.

  • Be realistic. The group of people most vulnerable to injury and death during a storm are seniors. The main causes of death are from exposure (heat or cold), followed by flooding. Know your vulnerabilities and plan for them.
  • Plan ahead. The time to think about what you will do if the power goes out or how to handle an emergency is NOT while it is happening. If hurricanes and snowstorms are common for your area – have a plan in place for things like no power, water or heat for several days, and to be housebound for up to a week.
  • If you have to evacuate, where will you go? The best way to ride out a storm is to avoid it. BEFORE it hits, go stay with family, friends, a hotel, shelter – somewhere that is either away from the storm entirely, or has backup power generation and services.
  • Stock extra water. Even if you are on city water or have electricity, the quality of drinking water can become contaminated during storms. Have several gallons of bottled water on hand.
  • Make sure you have prescriptions filled and enough on hand to for the duration of any emergency event.
  • How will you stay warm during an extended power outage? Do you have a working generator, wood stove or other SAFE means to generate heat? If you do not have a means to safely stay warm, you should evacuate.
  • If you use an oxygen concentrator and loose power, be sure to have back-up oxygen in the house AND refresh yourself and/or your family and aides on how to use it BEFORE the storm hits. Know exactly how much reserve oxygen you have, and consult with your provider if you are concerned it may not be enough to cover you given the circumstances.
  • Be extra careful. Remember that emergency services will be stretched to their limits during a large storm, and may not be able to respond to your call as quickly as usual. It is especially important to avoid any unnecessary activities that may heighten your risk of falls or injuries – stay off ladders, use your cane or walker at all times, slow down and take extra care moving about. Take your medications as prescribed, do your best to stay relaxed.
  • Poor lighting during outages can be especially dangerous for seniors. We all need 50% more light starting in our 50’s to see the same as we did in our 20’s. The older we are, the more likely we have other complications impairing our vision. Make sure there are plenty of battery-operated lights and flashlights. Be sure to clear passage ways BEFORE the storm hits so that if you do have to move around in lower light conditions, you are less likely to trip on things. Take up little rugs or low tables/stools/plants that pose fall hazards.
  • Communication with loved ones worried about you is important. Have a fully charged cell phone on hand in case telephone wires are down. Make sure your family knows your plans ahead of time so that if you are evacuated, they know where you would be headed. Avoid having emergency services called to check on you by keeping family informed of your plans and situation. 

Other Tips and Suggestions

  • Create a support network – make sure family, friends, neighbors and other care providers, such as agencies are aware of your needs and what your plans are for an emergency.
  • If you undergo routine treatments administered by a clinic or hospital or if you receive regular services such as home health care, treatment or transportation, talk to your service providers about their emergency plans. Work with them to identify back-up service providers and incorporate them into your personal support network.
  • [At Always Best Care, we work directly with our clients to make sure we have an emergency plan included in their care plan, and we talk with them ahead of each predicted storm to make sure they are aware and ready. If clients want extra help or someone with them during a storm, we can usually provide a live-in aide for 1-3 days, or help them identify and move to the nearest shelter or a hotel before the storm hits. We also always have a ready list of medications, medical conditions, allergies and emergency contacts at each client’s home for emergency personnel]
  • If you depend on specialized medical equipment, make sure others in your support network know how to use the equipment, and how to pack it up in case it needs to go with you when you evacuate. If you have equipment that relies on power, and are forced to evacuate, be sure to include extra extension cords when you pack.
  • Keep written copies of your prescriptions, over-the-counter medications and orders for medical equipment, including dosage, treatment and allergy information in your emergency kit. If you use specialized medical equipment, keep a list of the style and serial number of medical devices or other life-sustaining devices. Include operating information and instructions.
  • If you have difficulty communicating, include instructions on the best way to communicate with you for emergency personnel.
  • Make sure someone in your network has keys to your home and knows where you keep your emergency supplies.
  • Generators stay outdoors. Under no circumstance should you keep your generator in the house or an attached garage. The danger from carbon monoxide build up is real.
  • Do NOT use a gas oven or stove top to heat your home. If you cannot stay warm, evacuate.
  • No open flames in the house. If you must use an open flame to cook or grill, keep them outdoors. The risk of carbon monoxide poisoning and fire is too high.
  • Never go near any downed power lines around your house. You have no way of knowing if lines are live or dead, so just keep away.
  • Flood water is toxic! It likely contains raw sewage and all of the associated viruses, bacteria and germs. Chemical spills from household and industrial waste is also mixed in. Keep out of flood waters, and anything that comes in contact with it should be considered contaminated as well.
  • Food in your fridge will start to degrade if the temperature is above 45 degrees for more than two hours. Packing your fridge with ice and your freezer with bags of water BEFORE a storm will give you extra time before food spoils AND a source of clean water as the ice melts.