Some of our most vulnerable people in emergencies are the elderly.
Before we can properly plan for their care in emergencies, we need to create a personal assessment of them. This means that to begin, first we must determine two essential things:
Where are they located?
What are their needs?
The elderly are typically in one of three permanent locations--living with family members, residing in their own homes, or staying in an assisted care facility. Where they spend the majority of their time, determines in huge part how you make your plans for emergencies. One, because it gives you a good starting point of their basic needs. Two, it determines where you will be storing their supplies. And three, it lets you know how to alter your plans best to accommodate them and you in emergencies.
Let's take each of the three locations and go through the determining points noted above.
Living with family
Elderly people living with family usually need some form of assistance to function in the day to day environment. While this can be something like just needing help with mobility, it can also mean needing total assistance to stay alive. Generally, their needs in this location are tended to by family members entirely--sometimes with occasional help from trained medical personnel. This means there should be at least one person on site who is familiar with and able to help them in emergencies. Their emergency supplies will be located with the rest of the household's supplies and because they are already present, there is no need to plan for bringing them to your location for safety--though you will want to plan for moving them from your location in case evacuation is necessary.
Those living in their own homes usually are able to completely take care of their own day to day needs--though some may have outside assistance in areas they have decreased ability or medical requirements in. Their emergency supplies will be located in their own home but you will need to plan for the possibility of relocating them and their supplies in emergencies due to safety concerns. You will also need to keep up on their needs and receive any training yourself which could assist you, should you need to relocate them to your home in an emergency, as you may not have the ability to bring in outside assistance.
Assisted Care Facility
Elders living in an assisted care facility generally have severe needs requiring constance observation and professional help. Their emergency supplies may be stored here in whole or in part, with any remaining being located at the family member's home nearest them. Emergency relocation from a care facility is rarely to a family member home--and is usually to another care facility or medical facility, due to the advanced needs of the elders in this area. Your plans will have to be detailed and well-laid out, to tend their needs--and it is highly recommended that you make sure the facility they reside in has extensive and realistic emergency plans in place for all the residents, with all the emergency supplies on site and sufficient trained personnel present to actually be able to enact the plans. Care facilities are notoriously understaffed and undersupplied on a regular basis--a situation which becomes even worse in emergencies. You need to know the facility's plans, who is helping with evacuations and where they will be taken, how emergency supplies are getting to the facility in emergencies and how much is kept on hand regularly, who will be assisting the residents throughout the emergency, how regular daily needs will be met--even without power, the training levels of all staff, etc. If needed, contact state or federal agencies to get the facility your elder is located in, up to safe and responsible levels. But make no mistake, caregiving is a job--which means in emergencies, you might not have anyone show back up to work. So be prepared to take over all care of your elder if needed or be able to move them to another site safely--you just might have to. This source gives a good idea of what a care facility should have considered and tended to in their emergency planning, print it out, study it, and take it with you to the facility. In fact, make another copy and give it to them. And follow up until their emergency plans are excellent.
So, now that we know the effects locations make on your emergency plans for the elderly, it is time to begin building your plans.
There are a HUGE number of organizations currently in existence which can help you plan realistically and as accurately as possible for your elders in emergencies. You will NEED to do research to narrow all the information down and specialize it to the particular needs your elders have. I strongly recommend beginning with the following sites and going from there:
www.disability.gov This site is amazing--and hosts a huge library of topics which are sortable by need area--and provides information for elders as well as their caregivers.
www.myreadybook.com This is an essential emergency informational tool for any elder--and gives them the ability to instantly inform any caregiver or emergency personnel of their needs. And it is neatly portable, so relocation needs do not endanger your elder with the possible loss of vital information.
www.fema.gov This site holds a large number of references for planning for elders in emergencies (FEMA 476 Preparing for Disaster for People with Disabilities and Other Special Needs, is but one of the resources available.)
There are additional assists from the Red Cross, the Alzheimer's Association, AARP, Ready, Homeland Security, Emergency Preparedness Initiative, etc.
Now, once you've done all your research from professional and up-to-date sources, it is time to begin actually making your emergency plans. If your elder is able to understand, it is essential that you make all emergency plans together--just as you should have made all emergency plans for your family with the members who will be effected by them. Plans can only work if they are correctly made and KNOWN.
I will not take the time here to relist the areas of planning that are already covered in previous posts--instead, I will add the information here which is specifically for elders.
Obviously, you will need to focus any information on your elder's needs, so remember to adapt accordingly.
Elders require special attention in the following areas:
You must plan for their daily medical needs. Because emergencies threaten the ability to get to a doctor easily, you need to arrange with your elder's doctor to have at least a two week extra supply of all medicinal needs. If possible, a thirty day supply is best. You also need to have all of your elder's medical information in one location which is easily accessible in emergencies, should you or trained personnel need to relocate them--this is where the My Ready Book really shines. Do not forget that you need to plan for all of your person's medical assists, as well. This means everything from hearing aids and batteries, to oxygen, to walking assists, to eyeglasses and dentures, blood sugar monitoring devices, to service animals--with everything needed to maintain them, too. It would also be a very good idea to have a manual replacement for anything battery operated, if at all possible--or the means to recharge the batteries. Be sure that you and any other responsible family member knows how to correctly give all medicine and operate all medical assists. If you need to evacuate your elder, you must bring all medicines, medical history and information, necessary medical assists and service animals with them! Failure to do so may literally mean life or death of your elderly person! So plan ahead and carefully.
Keeping clean in emergencies is essential--and can be significantly harder for the elderly to manage. You must have toileting supplies (emergency toilet, wipes, toilet paper, sanitizer, and any incontinence or diapering items needed), bathing supplies (body wipes, soap, 'sponge' bath items, etc.), grooming supplies (specialized nail clippers, shaving items, comb or brush, tooth and denture items, etc.) and laundry supplies (for manually washing clothing and bedding). You must also be trained in properly toileting, sponge bathing, and grooming the elderly. And yes, it does take training to do it right!
Elders often have mobility issues. This can be something as a simple need for a steady arm to lean on to a cane or walker, or it can mean something more complex like a wheelchair or scooter. Your person could need help getting up and down--or be bedridden entirely. If possible, have more than one essential mobility item--that way if one is lost, stolen or damaged, your person is not left unassisted. Remember to have extra batteries and battery chargers for any assists your elder needs--and manual versions of essential ones, if possible. Remember that this area also includes your long range mobility plans--evacuation and relocation. Some elders can be moved by a regular vehicle, others require wheelchair accessible vans, and some require a full medical transportation. Know what your person needs and plan for it.
The mental state of your elder is something you need to really plan for. The Alzheimer's Association has a lot of assistance to provide for people with needs in this area--from helps in planning, to GPS tracking, to medical alert tags, to helplines. They can be contacted here: www.alz.org Remember that emergencies are seriously high octane stress for adults of full mental abilities, let alone someone who doesn't. Be patient and compassionate--you WILL make the difference for them in an emergency, for better or worse. I strongly recommend taking professional training in how to communicate and assist elders with cognition issues. Don't just wing it. You can hurt your elder badly by being untrained--and bring legal action against yourself for the abuse. You need to be a source of comfort and stability in an emergency, so learn how to be.
Emergencies bring out the best and the worst of people--they also bring damaged buildings, disrupted power, broken water or sewer pipes, and a host of other hazards. You need to provide as much protection for your elder as is possible. This means everything from doing or making sure is done any repairs or hazard-proofing of their home or facility, providing non-powered means to maintain daily living over extended emergencies, to making their place as criminally protected as possible. Know the possible emergencies which could effect their area--and plan for dealing with them. This could mean fire alarms and extinguishers, assist 'grab' bars throughout the home, emergency immediate contact ability should your person fall and be unable to reach a phone, non-electrical lighting (preferably non-flammable) for loss of power, etc. If this means you will have to relocate them, then have the ability to do so--and the secure location to take them to. Do NOT count on the 'goodness' of others--or their sense of 'duty'. Your elder's care is your responsibility.
Now, you have the basic information to start your emergency plans for your elder--go for it. If at all possible, sit down with your elder and talk with them, include them in the planning process. Make sure they know how to respond safely to emergencies--and that they feel secure that their needs are going to be accurately met. You have a ton of professional sources out there--do your research and take any training you need. Remember to have your elder learn and train as much as they can, with you. Assist any staff members or facility operators in developing quality and realistic emergency plans. Go back through the previous posts to this blog, center the Layers of Personal Emergency Preparedness we've talked about before on your elder. Prepare their kits and build up their supplies. Use the information you have learned today, to enhance everything for their best benefit. You can make all the difference for your elder's life.
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