Preparedness For Seniors

Everyone has seen the plethora of natural catastrophes on the news the past couple of years.  Photographs and video abound of flooding, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes.  Added to this are the reports of wars, famines & nuclear threats.  Science is advancing at a break-neck pace, so quickly that ethics are often shoved to the back burner.  All of these things can leave a person feeling a sense of discomfort or even fear while trying to live in the world around them.  For senior citizens, it can be much more alarming.   When we step back and think about the difficulties our bodies would have if certain things happened, it can be sobering.

 

Instead of allowing fear to take precedence in our minds, however, it is better to think through each of those scenarios and logically break it down into small, actionable steps.  We can evaluate it and then take action to prepare ourselves for anything from a power/communication outage for a few days to more drastic situations. In fact, it is better to take steps than to simply dwell on the situations that could happen.  Fear and anxiety paralyze. Action empowers.

First, think through the most likely emergencies you are to face & work outward from there. For most people, this would mean a power outage.  If your power goes out, will you still have water, heat & communication with the outside world?  If the answer to these is no, consider which area you want to tackle first.  A stockpile of water for you or any animals you have would be first.  If you live in extreme northern climates, that water will mean nothing if you do not have a heat source because it will be frozen much of the year.  Think through your heating systems next.  Be sure they can operate without electricity or that you have access to heat without power in case this situation arises.  If you live in a senior living facility, discuss the emergency protocol with the administration, so you know which things you are responsible to prepare for and whether they have a plan for the facility during an extended power outage.   Also, try to have two different forms of communication available.  If you have a land-line, you may also want to try to have cell phone for emergencies.  Cell phones can be very helpful during a power outage, especially if you have a battery bank.

Water is a subject of much importance, because without it we cannot live.  Be sure to have a 3 day water supply set aside, at the very least, but many people prepare for much longer than this.  Buying a filtering straw is one way that you can cut down on the amount of water that is necessary to be stored.  These straws can be used to filter even lake water and make it into safe drinking water.   FEMA recommends one gallon of water per person in your household.  Do not forget pets & livestock, however.

Food will be your next concern in case of a catastrophe.  If you have a way to cook, you’ll probably be fine with what you have on hand for a few days.  If you cannot cook when the power is out, it would be best to supply your pantry with at least a few days-worth of food that does not require cooking so that you will be able to eat & maintain your strength for what lies ahead.

Warmth will be another major concern if disaster strikes during winter months.  You must have a plan to stay warm.  That plan should include more than one power source, whether those options are wood heat, gas heat, propane, etc.  Make sure that you have at least one heavy blanket or sleeping bag for each person in your home.  Hot water bottles are also great tools in case of emergency.  They can keep you very warm in a sleeping bag & you’ll only need to heat that small space instead of the entire home.

Medications are extremely important too.  If you have regular medications that need to be taken, especially in heart patients, be sure that you have your supply about a month ahead of time.  Explain to your doctor that you are wanting to be prepared and ask whether it would be okay to get an extra month’s dosage.  Also tell him/her that you will be sure to rotate them out so that they will not expire.  This is advisable even if you are not preparing for disaster, as sometimes medications run out when the pharmacy is closed.  When this happens, people can have adverse reaction if their bodies are accustomed to medications at a certain time each day.

After you’ve prepared for a simple power outage (or other likely scenario), you can begin thinking about what you’d do in longer term situation. Discuss it with family to see if they have any thoughts that might be helpful.  Do not slip into paranoia about any possible calamity, but if you live in an earthquake prone area, be sure that you look up earthquake preparedness and act accordingly.  If you live in a place that has frequent forest fires, prepare for possible evacuation now so that you won’t be panicked when the call comes.  If you live in hurricane prone areas, make the preparation of your home an easy endeavor.  Consider shutters on hinges that are sturdy, instead of screwing plywood all the way around the house as this is not a viable option as we age into our 70’s and 80’s.  Do anything that you can do to make the problems easier to cope with in case you are ill or injured when disaster hits.

In flood prone areas, think often about the waterproofing of your things, especially documents that will be very difficult to replace.  Make sure to have insurance documents among those forms so you can make necessary calls even if you are in a shelter or staying with someone else.

Some people go to the extreme and prepare for biological attacks or nuclear attacks, which I will not go into here.  If you feel that that is a probable danger, do your best to prepare what you can, but always remember not to walk in fear.  Fear is the worst possible thing before, during or after a disaster.  It is not productive.   There are many things in life that cannot be foreseen, even if you try to prepare the best that you can.  Do not worry about those things, but focus on the things you can be prepared for.  You’ll sleep easier, & your family will sleep easier knowing that you’ll be okay for awhile until they are able to reach you in an emergency.

Perhaps the most important part of being prepared is to stay connected.  If you have close neighbors, consider discussing whether they’re prepared for a simple emergency.  Everyone in your apartment complex or neighborhood will feel safer if they know that their neighbors have also thought ahead and addressed these issues as much as possible.  It’s also good to establish good relationships with them in case they have a need that arises that you can meet or if you have a need that they could meet.  We all need one another in hard times.

When you’ve prepared as much as you’re able, rest well knowing that you’re ready, or at least more ready than you were at the beginning of this process!

Being Elderly:  Staying Safe Living Alone

Growing older has never been particularly easy.  Some would argue that it is getting easier with the new technologies that we have to enhance the quality of life in the latter years of life.  They would say that with all of the new medicines that we have, people can feel good for more years.

Others would say that we only need the medicines and technology to feel better because there is so much in life that is dwindling in quality.  Diabetes is rampant where it used to be non-existent, heart disease likewise.  Technology is helpful for staying in contact with family and friends, but in times past, family and friends were right by your side.  And, for the most part, our elderly population is wading into these late years of life nearly, if not completely, alone.  Families tend not to be closely knit anymore.

Because of this, the elderly find themselves in a very lonely place, mentally, but also physically.  There may be people around them, but most likely are not people that they feel connected to from their past, & may even be untrustworthy.  So here are a few basic protection tips for those elderly who find themselves walking the paths later in life by themselves, or nearly so.

  1. Lock your doors/windows.  In many older neighborhoods, especially in small towns, this has been historically unnecessary.  In today’s climate, it is necessary.  Perhaps not so much to protect belongings as to protect personal safety.  Drug culture is rampant, even in small, rural communities.  One of the most common ways for those on drugs to get what they feel they need is to steal it.  If you happen to walk back into your house while a theft is in progress, it is a very dangerous situation.  If your doors are locked, it makes it more difficult for the thief to enter.  It also gives you an early warning if you notice that the door has been tampered with so that you can go somewhere else & ask for help instead of walking into a dangerous situation.
  2. Don’t always answer the phone. Most phones are equipped with caller ID now.  If you have one of these phones, use it.  Screen numbers that you know.  If there is a call from an unknown number, they can leave a message.  Contrary to old time opinion, it is not rude to do this.  There are many people out there who would like to get at any available financial resource that you have, even if it’s a few dollars.  Give them less to work with & they’ll give up more readily.  If you have a message on an answering machine from someone who is asking for money, or who says that your bank account or credit card has been hacked or your identity stolen, speak with someone you trust who can listen to the message with you.  Then call your financial institution yourself to confirm the call was from them.  Do not call the number that was left in the message.  Just call the regular number that you would call to contact your institution. 
  3. Consider a pet. If you live completely on your own, a dog can be an early warning sign that something is not right.  While they can be a pain to take care of, dogs often hear things that we cannot & warn us about it.  They’re also great for starting to bark & scare away a prowler.  You do not have to get a breed that is known for guarding in order for it to be effective, a simple breed that you enjoy will warn you just as well.
  4. If you are actively online, you may want to hire someone that can take care of privacy issues on your computer and install an antivirus software for you.  Ask how often it will need to be looked at and updated & how much it will cost.  Protecting your identity online can be challenging.
  5. Cell phone. If you do not have a cell phone, consider a very basic one from which you can access 911.  Most cell phone companies have very basic, inexpensive plans if you do not plan to use the phone regularly.  Having one can keep you safe in case of emergencies.  If your vehicle breaks down & you need help, 911 services can generally locate your phone using GPS. If you fall & have your phone in your pocket or purse, you can use it to call for help.  In order for this to be effective, however, you’ll need to be familiar with the phone & how it works.
  6. Network of people. We’ve been talking about staying safe for those who are alone, but the best way to stay safe is to have a network of close friends/family by your side.  If your family members are untrustworthy, find friends who are.  There are many circumstances in life in which safety is more easily accomplished by just having someone around.  If you do not have a network like this, make an effort to start one. If you live in an apartment building, you need not invite someone into your home, but perhaps arrange to have coffee with a neighbor in a common room or lobby where you can get to know one another.  Call a friend that you’ve been meaning to call to re-connect.  Check in on a family member you haven’t heard from in a while.  Having a network of people around you can keep you safe & mentally stronger in your later years.

Safety is a difficult subject for all of us to think about because we do not want to think about the bad things that could happen.  Taking a few moments to consider what we can do to increase our safety without becoming paranoid, however, can increase our peace of mind & also prevent something bad from happening!  If you are not elderly and are reading this article, consider talking to an elderly friend about how they can remain safe in their situation.  Let’s help one another!

 

Emergency Preparedness Especially For Seniors (Part 2)

 

In the first part of this article, we covered three top priorities for the elderly in case of a large emergency.  Those three were: water (a minimum of a 3 day supply), non-perishable food, and sanitation.  We'll continue this article with other considerations that must be taken when caring for seniors or the elderly to help prepare them in case there is a widespread emergency.

Perhaps listed within the topmost priorities when dealing with a senior citizen would be to have a good supply of any life-saving medicines that they are on.  If they have heart issues, or asthma, for instance, be sure that their supply of medicines do not run so low that they would not be able to be sustained for a couple of weeks.  If there is a widespread disaster of some kind, perhaps utilities would be in running order within a few days, but often accessibility to a pharmacy or drugstore could be impaired.  They will need time to come up with a game plan for how they can refill prescriptions, so be sure that their supply of medicine currently on hand allows them that time so that it does not add extra stress to an already stressful situation.

Temperature control should also be a consideration.  If you live in extreme weather areas (the far north or the far south), be sure that they have the means they need in order to keep their core temperature where it needs to be.  In the far north, where temperatures can go as low as -50, they need to have a propane, fuel oil or wood heat source in case the power goes out. Also be sure that they have an adequate supply of blankets & even a hot water bottle so that they can climb in under covers & heat the bed directly around them to get truly warm.  In the far south, be sure that they have access to water for wetting down towels to place on their neck & also a battery operated fan.  Sometimes extreme temperatures can be just as devastating medically for them as dehydration.  The bodies of aged individuals have a harder time coping.

  Contact with the outside world will become increasingly important.  Often landlines go down during emergencies, so a cell phone may be in order.  If they have a cell phone, a non-electric way to charge it will be necessary.  Various companies make transistor radios with hand-crank charging options for phones. They often have attached flashlights, as well.  The radio itself will become invaluable during an emergency.  Be sure that if you are going to have these available for them to use, that they are aware of how to use them.  Using them several times a week is a good idea so that they do not forget important aspects.

Extra amenities that will be helpful are listed below.  These are simple suggestions that can make life a little more bearable when the pressure is on.  They are not necessary for physical survival, but can be of great help to make the emergency tolerable mentally.

-Chocolate or another favorite snack

-Crosswords or other puzzles to help pass the time

-Hobby items that do not require power

-Photo albums to look through

-Journal

-Books to read

Add other things that you think might be helpful for keeping your loved one calm under pressure.  Put all of these things in an easy to reach location, along with other emergency supplies.  None of these things should take over your life.  Your time or theirs should not be consumed with worry about a disaster.  These are just measures to take to help in various rough patches that can occur during an emergency.  Once you have a decent supply in place, check in about every 6 months to see what has been used, or what might need to be updated or replaced.  No one is every fully prepared for a large emergency, but hopefully these two articles will give you something to think about as you consider the seniors in your life & their safety.

Emergency Preparedness Especially for Seniors 2 Part Series (Part 1)

  By now, you've probably heard the term, “preppers” used for those people who stockpile various items for a coming natural or man-made disaster.  Usually the term is referring to those who have large stashes of things and that have contingency plans for almost any conceivable disaster.  For some people, this is driven purely by fear & can become a very unhealthy obsession, thus giving the term “prepper” a somewhat negative connotation.  But, being prepared has never been a negative thing, and making sure that the seniors & elderly in our lives are well prepared in case of emergency is simply a caring thing to do.

In days gone by, there was not a term for prepping.  Being prepared was simply a way of life.  If you had a family & if the people in your family preferred to eat rather than to starve, you would naturally be sure that you had food canned, dried or in a spring/ice house to preserve it.  If your water system was unreliable, you made sure that you had a cistern or tank that could supply the water during the dry spells.  Many neighbors worked together on things that couldn't be done alone.  If travel/communication became difficult, word was sent with another person that would be headed in the right direction.  Today, we've become a fairly isolated society.  Many people no longer garden, therefore food storage practices have been lost, but that doesn't mean that we cannot be prepared.

As seniors move into semi-independent living situations, oftentimes emergency preparedness can be overlooked.  Downsizing takes place & with it many of the extra supplies that they were accustomed to having around the house.  There is absolutely NOTHING wrong with downsizing.  Sometimes, however, some basic tools in case of an emergency get overlooked.  FEMA recommends that, at minimum, people have a 3 day supply of water for themselves & pets in case water supplies are knocked out by a natural or man-made disaster.  If you glean nothing else from this article, be sure that your loved one has at least a 3 day supply of water that is regularly rotated so that they will not become severely dehydrated if they are unable to re-supply due to a major emergency.  Water, as you know, is even more necessary to life than food, so this should be your first priority.

A second priority would be to be sure that they have a bit of a stockpile of non-perishable food.  I'm not suggesting that you go out and buy a large stock of MRE's, especially if the person is living alone!  The best approach to this is to look at their existing cupboards to find what they already eat, then buy a few extra cans at a time to put in the cupboard.  Setting up a system for canned goods so that they can be used up & rotated according to date would be a good idea, so that none of them get overlooked. The goal is not to overwhelm the individual with tons of extra responsibility for keeping track of food supplies, but rather to be sure that they are stocked should a bad situation arise & you are unable to be there to help them for a few days.

  Sanitation is also in the top three priorities.  If there is no water, how will they sanitize their hands?  The easiest route to take would be to buy a large, alcohol based, waterless hand sanitizer.  A 5 gallon bucket with a lid can serve as an emergency commode, but could also be useful for storing something in the meantime so that it's not taking up unnecessary space in a small apartment.

There are many other considerations when preparing the elderly for a disaster, which I'll go into in another article.  This should be enough to get you started for the week!

Emergency Preparedness for Seniors

Aging is something that affects every single aspect of life.  But, have you ever thought about how it impacts your preparedness for an emergency or even a natural disaster?  Think about how things get more difficult on a monthly basis as we age.  Now think about that from the perspective of someone who is living on their own during even their more advanced years.  From basic, life saving medical aids to a state-wide or even national emergency, it is best to be prepared before the incident occurs rather than wishing that you had been prepared once it has occurred.  And, what's more, if you're prepared & your loved ones are prepared, perhaps you'll be able to be the ones to help someone who isn't when the time comes!

  1. Life saving medical aids. Aging people who are beginning to notice difficulty with walking or stairs should take some time to investigate medical alert devices.  It doesn't necessarily mean that you'll have to wear a necklace with a button (although that is certainly an option) they have watches available, too.  This way, at a very basic level, you are able to contact Emergency Services to come to your aid.  Many people do not think about needing them until there is a serious problem where they've found themselves unable to get up when they've fallen outside.  Think about Northern climates & whether or not you'd be able to survive for long if the temperatures drop to -20F.  Or, in the South, if you're in an area that gets very hot, if you'd survive without water for long.  Take 30 minutes to research the options you have available & make a decision about whether you should be getting one & wearing one for peace of mind.
  2. Household hazards. My grandmother lived for years with tripping hazards all around her house.  She loved her old rag rugs.  As she advanced in years, however, they became more of a nuisance.  She lived on her own, but because of extreme arthritis, the effort of lifting her feet to avoid turning up the corners of the rugs became too much.  She finally got rid of the rugs in most places or had them replaced with options that were heavier & stayed down on the edges better.  Door knobs that are easier to open/close & lock are other safety issues.  Rolling chairs should be replaced with sturdy options.  Unusually high or low bedsides should be replaced with  easily maneuvered beds at the right height.  Spend some time thinking about the things that might allow your loved one to enjoy their aging years in comfort & make it available to them.  Showers & bathrooms should have tubs with doors, handles near the commode and in the shower, etc.
  3. Preparedness kits. Spend some time thinking about the things that could occur in your area first.  In all areas of the country, power outages can occur easily.  If those outages last for a number of days, what will that mean for a senior citizen or even a group of seniors who rely on others for help?  Water is the first concern. There should be adequate water for at least 3 days time somewhere in the house. In Northern climates, that water must also be accompanied by a way to have heat should it go out, because water will do no good if it frozen solidly.  Shelter, warmth & food are also other considerations for these times.  How will you eat & stay warm (or cool depending on circumstances)? You can read some great tips from the Red Cross on this PDF:

https://www.redcross.org/images/MEDIA_CustomProductCatalog/m4640086_Disaster_Preparedness_for_Srs-English.revised_7-09.pdf

  1. Forming a plan that family/neighbors/friends know about. In all of the preparations that you make or that you help a loved one to make, please keep in mind that they are the most effective if they are shared with others.  Many older people look out for one another.  If that is the case, share where you have the necessary emergency numbers, keys or papers with those you trust.  Share your plans with one another in case a disaster occurs.  Perhaps you can help one another by reminding one another of things that might be helpful or items that you should buy in case of emergency.  Be sure to form a chain of people to call so that everyone knows when things are safe & that you're okay.  Lack of communication can be the scariest part of an emergency, so find a way to combat that, if you can.

These are only a few suggestions to help start you on your preparedness journey.  There are countless websites & books that can help you to prepare for specific emergencies in a more comprehensive way.  This article is only intended to take aging into consideration in the process.  Most people do not think about the new limitations that aging presents in these situations.  Begin thinking and preparing today for these types of emergencies & rest easy knowing that you're as ready as you can be.

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