[by Joanne Reynolds] The earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster unfolding in Japan have featured news coverage that must tug at the heartstrings of every caregiver—the elderly people in care facilities who are unable to leave because of the contamination and have run out of medications.
No one wants to see their loved one in a circumstance like that. As a caregiver, you need to be prepared for a disaster, whether your loved one is living independently, with you or in a care facility. The Red Cross has an excellent booklet on disaster planning for seniors (“Disaster Preparedness for Seniors by Seniors”) that was created in the wake of an enormous blizzard in upstate New York in 2003. I strongly recommend that you get and use this book, whether or not you’re caring for an elderly loved one. It’s full of good advice for all of us.
In the meantime, here are 12 tips on preparing in advance to respond to a large emergency, some of which comes from www.agingcare.com :
- Know what the potential threats are. The list should cover everything imaginable from a home fire to a community or regional disaster such as an earthquake or flood.
- Learn your community’s disaster plans. Find out how residents are to be contacted, what the response and evacuation plans are and where emergency shelters are located.
- Plan escape routes from your home and practice them. Each room should have an escape plan that everyone in the house knows about. Pick a safe place outside the house where everyone will gather after escaping.
- Establish a communication plan. This plan needs to take into account a wide range of possibilities. How will you communicate if you’re not all together—land phone lines, cell phones, computers? Our family has an out-of-region contact who can relay messages during a disaster if local communications are difficult.
- Create an emergency kit. Go to www.redcross.org . Click on the Preparing and Getting Training Tab. On that page, go to Prepare Home and Family, and then click on the Get a Kit tab. You’ll find a comprehensive list of what your emergency kit should have in it. Be sure to include a three-day supply of medications for your loved one in this kit.
- Maintain your emergency kit. Once you’ve got it assembled, don’t neglect it. Make sure the materials are fresh and up-to-date. Rotate out medications, batteries and anything else that has a limited life span.
- Create emergency health cards for the whole family. The cards should be kept with the person they describe in a purse, backpack or wallet. If you loved one is home-bound, make sure the card is someplace where it can easily be found and pinned to their clothing in the event of an evacuation. It should contain name, age, address, significant medical conditions and list of medications, your contact information, physician contact information and any other information that would be pertinent to emergency personnel. For instance, if your loved one is blind or deaf, this information needs to go on the contact card.
- Learn CPR and first aid. Again, the Red Cross is an excellent source of classes, as are most hospitals and adult education providers.
- Check your fire extinguishers. Make sure they have not expired, that you know where they are and how to use them.
- Make copies of important papers and keep the second set at a location away from home. This is where a file like The Tool Box: Life Documents File is so valuable. You can find it at www.blueprintforcaregiving.com or create your own.
- Plan for your pets. Your emergency supplies should include food and meds for pets as well as people. In exploring the local disaster response plan, find out where the pet shelter will be in case you and your pet are separated.
- Keep your loved one’s special needs in mind in your preparations. If he or she has a home health care worker, find out what the agency’s disaster plan is. Find out the same information if she or he is in a care facility. Where will they be evacuated to?
Does your loved one have equipment needs, such as walkers or wheelchairs? Include use of these in your plan. In addition to medications, think about extra supplies for incontinence or batteries for hearing aids and the like. Think about what your loved one will need if you are forced to live in a shelter for a few days or are unable to leave your home for the same period of time.
Preparing for a disaster will enable you and your loved ones to live through it with less stress than if you are unprepared. Don’t wait until disaster strikes. Prepare now.
Photo credit: Samantha Fein