Helping Seniors Survive the Hazards of Hurricane Season


With the release of the hurricane outlook for the 2015 season, experts report that it will be a quieter than normal hurricane season. But don’t be complacent about hurricane preparedness, especially when an elderly loved one is in the picture, either living with you or living alone a distance away.

For the 2015 hurricane season, the National Hurricane Center and NOAA predicted 6-11 named storms of which 3-6 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including possibly 2 major hurricanes (winds of 111 mph or higher). If a storm hits, Seniors in need of regular medical attention or daily drug doses could be at risk, especially those living alone or in danger of wandering should their residence be compromised. Fear, as well as water and wind damage and power outages, can wreak havoc on the lives of those older adults with age related illness or cognitive impairment.

Navigating a hurricane is difficult enough under the best of circumstances, but especially difficult when you add walkers and wheelchairs, hearing aids and vision loss, or a dependency on medical treatment, therapy, or specific medications. But even if Seniors have a physical impairment they should still be able to prepare to protect themselves ahead of time.  Here’s how:         

     1) Start a support network made up of several people who can check on the Senior in an emergency situation, hurricanes included, to assess their wellness and provide assistance. The network should be trusted individuals – give them a key and be sure they know where the “emergency” supplies are kept. Have a plan for contacting each person as telephones may not be working. Often texting is still available even though a phone call will not go through.

     2) Establish what the essential items needed in case of evacuation are, and evaluate what might be need to survive at home for at least 3 days. Bundle these supplies in a large travel bag (preferably with wheels) and keep the bag in a central, handy spot. It should include:

         *  bottled water,

       *  any medications needed or medical items required, and an extra pair of eyeglasses, hearing aids, medical devices and supplies

        *  cell phone and charger if available, (write out important phone numbers and contact info in case the phone dies and the contacts list is not accessible)

         *  flashlight or lantern with batteries, (NOT candles and matches!)

         *  first aid kit,

         *  protein bars and other wrapped or canned food, (with a pop top preferably)

         *  change of clothes and a blanket,

         *  documents like lists of medications, physician names and contact info, insurance documents, etc.,

         *  small battery operated radio.

     3) Preparation makes a difference! It is easier to stay calm when someone knows what to do, so make an emergency response plan in accordance with the Senior’s personal abilities and physical limitations and the procedures in their community. It should include:

         *  keeping canes, walkers and wheelchairs in a central, accessible area,

         *  rehearsing an evacuation the fastest way out of the residence, (wheelchair accessible if necessary)

       *  reviewing the evacuation route out of town and to the nearest friend, relative, or safe public area so designated by the authorities or Red Cross,

        *  contacting the local township about how to arrange for evacuation in the event it is necessary, if the Senior does not have access to a car or cannot drive, or does not know of anyone that can provide transportation,

       *  knowing the important emergency phone numbers and posting them by the phone, and having an alternative method of communication in case the phones don’t work,

        *  finding out how to shut off utilities if lines are damaged,

        *  figuring out alternative sources for keeping items cool (especially meds), cooking, and waste management

        *  testing smoke and carbon monoxide alarms

        *  talking to an insurance agent in advance, whether about homeowners or hazard policies; or long term care, home health or care management options if appropriate so the Senior is not alone if no family is nearby,

       *  putting passports, social security cards, wills, birth certificates etc., in a safety deposit box or other safe location, making digital copies,

        *  making a contingency plan for any household pets and their needs as well.

When disaster strikes, the community warning system kicks in and local emergency teams spring into action. Know who these are in the local area and alert them in advance to your Senior’s needs.  Don’t be afraid to reach out to those at the Church or Temple, or other community based associations, even the fire department. During storm season monitor NOAA by radio or computer. The National Hurricane Center can be found here: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/. Just enter the local zip code. Additional resources and helpful checklists can be found here: http://www.ready.gov/seniors.

If your elderly loved one lives in an assisted living facility or nursing home, chances are a disaster plan already exists. If you are a Senior that receives home health care or has a Care Manager that visits you, be sure to ask them if they have been instructed by their agency as to how to handle a disaster or emergency like a hurricane. Seniors should be ready to go to a shelter when told to evacuate by the authorities because flood water is rising, electrical power will be out for days, or the residence has been severely damaged and is dangerous.

The Red Cross provides food, shelter and first aid in emergency situations, visit their website for additional resources and information.

Palm Beach/Treasure Coast: http://www.redcross.org/fl/palm-beach

Broward County/South Florida: http://www.redcross.org/fl/miami

Ferial Andre, RN, CCM, CDP, founder and CEO of Regal Home Health and Care management, cautions that, “Hurricanes wreak havoc on those caught in the hurricane, physically, emotionally, and mentally. Keep this mind when considering how to help your Senior loved ones survive the storm.”

CONTACT US: The best emergency plan is to be prepared, and to account for a multitude of scenarios. Rest assured that Regal Caregivers and Care Managers are trained in emergency preparedness and educated in how to handle hazardous situations, and will be fully equipped and ready to continue caring for their patients during a hurricane or other emergency situation. Families separated by distance from an elderly loved one may want to consider a Care Manager to be sure the Senior’s health, wellness and safety can be verified, their medical needs are met, and that food and water as well as medications are available. Regal also has an Emergency Preparedness Team that can assess Senior’s individual situations during hurricane season and assist those that need help assembling their supplies and essentials. Contact Ferial Andre, RN, CCM, CDP regarding more information on these services at 561-499-8382 or ferialandre@regalcares.com.

This article is not intended as medical advice.