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Facing A Storm

By  Jennifer Bradley, Staff Writer

 

In most parts of the country, the long-anticipated summer days also mean the coming of the much-dreaded storm season. From thunderstorms to tornados, and house fires to hurricanes, weather is as unpredictable as a loved one suffering from memory loss. The best plan, when both situations find themselves, face-to-face is the standard advice: be prepared!

An “A-Team”

Any caregiver over the age of 40 remembers the days of the A-Team, which Wikipedia describes as “soldiers of fortune.” Sometimes caregivers find themselves in a similar role, having to take control of a loved one’s finances and health care, among other things, for the best interest of that person. Sometimes that “takeover” is not always welcome. Disaster preparedness is similar. A disaster is never a welcome problem.  A caregiver’s best defense is having one in place prior to when an aggressive takeover is essential!

Now is a caregiver’s chance to organize their own A-Team, a support network of local friends, neighbors and relatives who can be of assistance during disasters. The team together should decide how they will establish communication during a time of natural disaster and how each member will be of assistance to the caregiver before, during and after.  

The University of Florida IFAS Extension Service suggests a caregiver have someone on the team who can lift and carry heavier items with ease, such as wheelchairs, oxygen tanks, etc. Evaluate the condition of the loved one and plan accordingly, even more aggressively if their situation progresses rapidly. Also, fear makes people freeze both mentally and physically, making the person less able to help themselves during stressful times.

At least one, if not all team members, should have a key to the loved one’s home, in case the others are unable to respond first. One person should be named substitute caregiver and “in charge” in case the regular provider is unavailable.
Once the team is assembled, discuss and learn what potential disasters a loved one’s area may encounter. Hurricanes, earthquakes, tornados and floods are just a few of the regional threats a variety of people may face, depending on location. Another less-thought-of risk is residence near a nuclear power plant or chemical storage complex.

The Written Rule

The written word is just as powerful today as it was one hundred years ago. It confirms and solidifies plans with an authority no spoken phrase can. As a caregiver, a disaster plan is good, but even better if written down, distributed to the A-Team and reviewed periodically. And, it’s a great tool for a loved one to have on hand, to help them feel safe and cared for, and organized during a confusing time.

The document should list the disaster procedures agreed upon, including evacuation and preparation tasks. As a guide to other team members, describe exactly what the loved one will be needing during this time, such as incontinence products, medications and clothes. This leaves no time lost by a rescuer guessing what items to ensure are readily available.

The University of Florida IFAS Extension Service provides some helpful hints for this document. One such tip is to list the person’s daily schedule. What does a typical 24-hour period look like? Many people with caregivers have schedules and are very set to them. If toileting, eating and taking medication occur at regular times every day, this helps a temporary caregiver keep the situation as calm and normal as possible.

Another great tip the Extension Service offers is for a caregiver to describe in detail how their loved one handles stress and traumatic experiences. Some ideas include:

  • Does talking or singing help? A particular book or song?

  • What “things” bring comfort? A blanket, pillow, animal? Where are they usually found?

  • Is there medication that may help calm a loved one?

  • Who is a loved one most comfortable with if the primary caregiver is unavailable? How can this person be reached?

Once the document is complete, a caregiver should place it in a prominent position of a loved one’s home so anyone can find it. Give copies to team members. Keep a note taped to the refrigerator listing the location of the binder so any public safety personnel can find it as well.

The Waiting Game

So, the storm is coming. The meteorologists have it all pinpointed on their fancy charts and graphs. That doesn’t mean a caregiver can sit by and wait helplessly. Now a caregiver should put the well-laid plan into action even during the pre-storm period.

A fire or tornado is not a time to sit and think about the plan; but during a hurricane or thunderstorm, keep the news on, whether by radio or TV, until the power fails. A caregiver should try to create a sense of normalcy until action is required. This minimizes stress to all involved.

As children, parents and teachers walked us through evacuation plans and safe areas for home and school. As adults, it is just as important to be prepared for such situations. As a caregiver, it is essential to show a loved one their options for a variety of disasters.  The disaster team should meet and discuss topics such as:

  • What is the location of the nearest emergency shelters?

  • What supplies must be taken with the loved one?

  • How many people are needed for assistance?

  • Who should be informed when evacuation has taken place? Loved ones? Local disaster officials?

Shelter from the Storm

Knowing where to go, whether at home, or away from, is an essential part of any good disaster plan.

The University of Wisconsin Extension Service suggests certain loved ones could be able to take refuge in a dedicated Special Needs Shelter. These dedicated areas are equipped with staff, supplies, and other devices for those people whose medical conditions deem more care than the Red Cross shelter provides. This is not for those that require hospitalization. The Extension article also suggests a caregiver make sure to pre-register for these types of safe areas, as it usually is required. A city or county emergency management agency can be of help and suggest a place near a loved one’s residence.

However, the timing and nature of the disaster will determine the shelter needed. Sometimes a storm is better waited out at home. Strong hurricane winds may not warrant an evacuation, but power may be lost for a period. A loved could be good on their own, with a team member present; or depending on their condition, both physical and emotional, may do better staying with family once the storm warning comes across the news.

When evacuation is necessary, a backup shelter plan should be arranged ahead of time. Tornados, house fires and floods can cause damage to homes and prevent someone from returning for a period of time. The best option is for a relative or close friend to help out. If that is not available, the Red Cross will provide food, beverages and blankets, but not enough cots and pillows for everyone. And, food also may not meet a loved one’s needs. Nurses will be at shelters, but only for basic first aid.

While a caregiver can hope the extreme never occurs, it’s better to have some shelter strategies prepared just in case.

Necessities

Stay at home supplies

If the disaster turns out to be a mere thunderstorm, but the electricity shorts, this can be just as frightening and confusing for a loved one as a full-blown evacuation. Sometimes even more prep is needed for those times or for instances when help cannot arrive for a few hours or days and a loved one is stranded. Here is a list the National Administration on Aging offers for home supplies:

  • Enough water to last 3 to 6 days (one gallon per person, per day)

  • Enough food for the same amount of time; non-perishables recommended, along with a hand-operated can opener

  • Flashlight

  • Portable radio

  • Extra batteries

  • First aid kit

  • Light sticks

  • Waterproof matches

  • Three- to six-day supply of necessary medications, along with an updated list

  • Cell phone

  • Cash or traveler’s checks

  • Emergency contact list

To-go kit

The “to-bring” list is extensive for children on any given outing, but for elderly loved ones, may be even more so. Medications, equipment, special foods and mobility aids are just a sampling of the list a caregiver should have prepared ahead of time.

  • Basic personal hygiene items

  • Extra pair of prescription glasses, if applicable

  • Change of clothing

  • Compact rain slicker

  • Good pair of walking shoes

  • Blanket or sleeping bag

Animals

Pets are also a concern when it comes to supplies. A caregiver should have a plan in place and extra bags of food stashed away.  Discuss with a loved one what to do if evacuation is necessary. Many people are resistant to leaving without their pets, but the decision may be inevitable. Make it easier by discussing the options ahead of time, preparing a loved one and preventing an even bigger disaster when they refuse to leave.

More info

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Aging, has a great checklist at www.aoa.org. Look under the heading “Emergency Preparedness.” Any local Red Cross is also a great resource. The people there will be able to say where shelters are planned for, give other ideas a caregiver may not have thought of, and help with specific needs of a loved one. There’s no question that a little planning will save time when and if the need arises.  This process doesn’t have to be life-consuming. It can be worked out, and then put away for a rainy day!

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