Handling Hurricane Hazards for Seniors

Hurricane 2Navigating during 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. Hurricane precautions and preparedness become even more complex when an elderly loved one is living alone, or a distance away, and is in an evacuation zone.

If a storm hits, Seniors in need of regular medical attention or daily drug doses could be at risk, especially those living on their own or in danger of wandering should their residence be compromised. Fear, just as well as water and wind damage or power outages, can wreak havoc on the lives of Seniors with age related illnesses or cognitive impairment. The experts say that proper planning can make all the difference. Where do you start?

First, consideration needs to be given to whether or not the strength of the storm will alter the desire or ability of the Senior to stay or leave their residence. If the decision is made to stay, then make protecting the residence and putting a generator in place a priority. Remember that if evacuation will be necessary, roads and highways will be clogged with vehicles or flooded, so do not plan to leave at the last minute. If medical equipment that runs on electricity is required, it is wise to register immediately with a special needs shelter just in case (see below). Plans should be made for alternate residence in case of damage to the home. As soon as possible, purchase a medical alert device that has the ability to track and identify a Senior loved one if they go missing.

Even if Seniors have an impairment and plan to stay put, they should still be able to prepare to protect themselves in a storm.  Here’s how:

1) Start a support network made up of several people who can check on the Senior in an emergency situation, to assess their wellness and provide assistance. The network should be family members or 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. Have a prepared list of the Senior’s physicians and prescriptions readily available, as well as copies of any advanced directives and insurance information.

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 “TO GO” bag in a central, handy spot. The survival kit should include:

**  bottled water, approximately 1-3 gallons per dayhurricane supplies

**  a week supply of any medications needed or medical items required, and an extra pair of eyeglasses, hearing aids, medical devices and supplies like oxygen, inhalers, adult Depends etc.

** 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 extra 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,

**  small battery operated radio and a whistle.

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. Try to maintain the daily routine as much as possible. Preparations 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,

**  posting important emergency phone numbers by the phone, and having an alternative method of communication in case the land line or cell phones don’t work,

**  testing smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, finding out how to shut off utilities if lines are damaged,

**  figuring out alternative sources for keeping items cool, especially medications,

** coming up with a plan for cooking and garbage or waste management

**  talking to an insurance agent in advance about homeowners or hazard policies, as well as long term care and home health or care management options if the Senior is alone and no family is nearby,

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

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

evacuating elderly for hurricaneWhen disaster strikes, the community warning system kicks in and local emergency teams spring into action. Know who these are in your 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. The Alzheimer’s Community Care 24-hour crisis line operates before, during and after the storm: 800-394-1771. Alzheimer’s Community Care reports that a special needs shelter has been established in Palm Beach County where Alzheimer’s and dementia sufferers and their caregivers can go and transportation is provided. Registration is required and occupancy is limited. Visit http://www.pbcgov.com/dem/sections/logistics/scu.htm or call 561-712-6400. These provide physical shelter only and a few medical basics, so you will still need to pack the items listed in #2 above.

If your elderly loved one lives in an assisted living facility or nursing home, chances are a disaster plan already exists. Find out what that is! If you or your Senior love one receives Home Health care or has a Care Manager that visits you, be sure to ask them how they have been instructed by their agency to handle an 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.

During the storm season monitor NOAA by radio or computer. The National Hurricane Center can be found here: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/. Just enter your local zip code. Additional resources and helpful checklists can be found here: http://www.ready.gov/seniors.  The Red Cross provides food, shelter and first aid in emergency situations, visit their websites for additional resources and information:

Red Cross Palm Beach/Treasure Coast: http://www.redcross.org/local/florida/south-florida/local-chapters/palm-beach-martin-county or call 561-833-7711 or (561) 994-2060

Red Cross Broward County/South Florida: http://www.redcross.org/local/florida/south-florida/local-chapters/broward-county or call (954) 797-3800

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 middle, not just physically, but emotionally, and mentally. Relocation stress from moving the impaired elderly results in confusion, agitation, combativeness, and an increased risk for falls. Keep this in mind when considering how to help your Senior loved ones survive the storm. We plan months in advance to be able to shepherd our clients and caregivers through the storm safely!”

CONTACT US: Don’t wait for a hurricane warning – get ready now! 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, medications and medical treatment are available. Regal’s Emergency Preparedness Team will assess each patient’s individual situation during hurricane season and assist those that need help assembling their supplies and essentials, or preparing to evacuate. 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, legal or financial advice.