Aging Parents And Disaster Preparedness: One More Responsibility For Adult Children?

With climate change, extremes in weather and increasing disasters, most of us are aware that we need to be disaster-ready in some way. But are our aging parents ready for a disaster or even an extended power outage? We recently had a taste of what is needed with rapid and extensive flooding in our area. It could happen anywhere.

There were warnings from climatologists about a major storm coming. There were suggestions that it could lead to power outages. Most in our senior-heavy area took it to mean that they should stay home due to heavy rain. This has occurred in various parts of the country with a similar result. People make sure they have flashlights, food on hand and they charge their cell phones ahead. But the difficulties for aging parents are likely to exceed what a younger and more able-bodied person could do under severe weather circumstances. Maybe your aging loved ones haven’t checked on whether they have fresh batteries or anything else lately. When the power goes out and stays out, elders who depend on it for operating their medical devices and getting deliveries are in trouble. Darkness poses a greater fall risk for them too.

At our house we have a generator for back-up power. But in the dark and downpour, my capable husband was not able to start it. It took a calmer moment, the following day, with a review of the directions, to get it going. He made a few notes on the manual, and we’re good to go for the future but not everyone is so fortunate. Imagine an elderly person trying to do that on short notice in darkness and maybe with vision or balance problems. Family could help by testing any equipment your aging parents have the next time you see them to be sure everything works.

Reflecting on the sudden and prolonged power outage we just experienced, I was reminded of what every family of every elder needs to do to help keep your aging parents as safe as you can. Here are some reflections on things you can do, should you live at any distance from your aging loved ones.

  1. With your aging parents, go over the lists offered in every state about how to be prepared for what might happen. Do they have what’s called a “Go Bag” with essential items, including medicines, clothing, food and water to grab on short notice when evacuation is ordered? If they don’t, you can help them identify what they should pack in that bag and be sure they get it, and keep it in a suitable place. It should be reachable and they need to be able to carry it. Use more than one bag if weight is an issue. Imagine what they would do if they had to escape where they live in an hour or less.
  2. Anticipate the problems created by a power outage. Do they have flashlights or lanterns, with fresh batteries? When was the last time anyone checked on these details? Is there an alternate power source, such as a generator or battery wall? This can be critical if they can’t leave the home and the power is down for days as it has been in numerous disasters across the country in the past year. Your aging parents may not be thinking clearly about worst case scenarios. Adult children or other relatives can step in and make sure what is needed is on hand just in case.
  3. Do they have important papers and permanent records in a safe, fire and flood-proof place? When a crisis hits, no one is likely to be thinking clearly. When we’re in “fight or flight mode” we only focus on what is immediate, not what we might have planned for in a calmer moment. Take advantage of the calm when no emergency is on hand and be sure you ask aging parents to attend to these items, in case they might have to flee hurriedly. You, the family can help organize, supply and plan for what could be life saving.
  4. If you live at a distance from aging parents, and they are vulnerable, get the names of neighbors and friends nearby whom you could call on to help if needed in a disaster. In our area we are organizing neighbor groups to look out for one another, identifying with a brief survey those who say they would likely need help and those who could help others. Walkie talkies will be used by the leader of each group to communicate, in the event that cell phones are not in service and emergency personnel can’t be reached.

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No one likes to think it could happen to us but all it takes is one nearby disaster to get your wake-up call. Any aging parents who may be frail, hard of hearing or dealing with dementia could be next to face an urgent matter of nature. Because we work daily with elders and their families at AgingParents.com, we see the vulnerability of aging and how much at risk our older clients and neighbors are. What we learned is that we can all do better in preparing for an emergency situation. We made adjustments. We got more supplies. We made sure everything for emergencies is in working order. Now we’re feeling more secure and hope you and your older loved ones will be too.

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