When Hurricane Irma devastated Florida in 2017, one of the things that stood out was how unprepared nursing homes are for disasters and emergencies, especially following the 8 deaths of the elderly due to the power outage.
But this is not a new issue, as deaths among the elderly and weak during and after disasters are one of the problems that governments and regulators are having a hard time addressing. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina caused deaths in hospitals and nursing homes in Louisiana, and in 2012, there were elderly who died in their own homes during Hurricane Sandy. The most recent example of how vulnerable the elderly are is the Camp fire that devastated the Ridgewood Mobile Home Park in Paradise, California in November of 2018. About 77% or 53 of the 86 people who died in the fire are people who are aged 65 and above. This shows that there is an issue when it comes to how unprepared we are to help the elderly during disasters.
In this article, we’ll discuss the importance of helping this group during a disaster and what they can do to prepare for these kinds of situations.
Why The Weak and Elderly Need Help During SHTF
It has been a common practice in our country to leave the care of our elderly or weak in hospitals or facilities that have the necessary staff and equipment to care for them properly. Though this might be the best course of action to take, it’s important that as preppers we still include them in our preparation.
These facilities might have the proper equipment and staff to care for our weak and elderly during normal times, but when the grid goes down, we can’t expect these facilities to still fully care for them. In 2017, an article came out that Nursing homes, or long-term care facilities, are not usually prepared to deal even with simple emergencies or situations.
These issues include not having the proper training and knowledge when it comes to dealing with disaster and the lack of proper equipment like a generator or a wheelchair ramp. The lack of a generator actually caused deaths in a nursing home in Florida after Hurricane Irma passed through. The power outage made the place hot without air-conditioning and 8 residents died as a result. Though the death required nursing facilities to have generators to deal with power outages, not all the facilities had the budget to get generators.
Then there’s also the fact that generators don’t have the capacity to provide power to everything that a long-term care facility will need, like HVAC units and keeping food and medicine from spoiling. This makes sheltering in place during a disaster tough and risky. But the alternative, which is an evacuation, is actually riskier. The elderly, especially those who are weak and sick, are at greater risk of mortality since they are being subject to further strain and stress.
The manager for disaster preparedness and for the California Association of Health Facilities said that evacuations shorten the lifespan of fragile and the elderly. This sentiment was echoed in an article from Public Radio International. The article mentioned the risk of evacuating the elderly, especially the weak and sick. The strain of being placed on crowded buses, riding for hours, and going to evacuation centers that are unfit to take care of them puts them at greater risk. There are also cases where an evacuation center is already full or can’t accommodate the elderly that requires special attention, so the travel time is extended as they find a place to go.
But the article does note that there are also risks of them staying in the nursing home facilities during a disaster. The choice to evacuate or to stay will likely depend greatly on the facility or home and its capacity to care for the weak and elderly during a disaster.
This is why this group will need special attention and help during a severe disaster since their situation is delicate. Preparing for them will be different as there are several considerations that you will need to take.
What Can The Elderly Do To Prepare?
After discussing the importance of why the weak and elderly need help during a disaster scenario, it’s now time to talk about how the elderly can prepare for a disaster.
It’s important to note that there are 3 types of elderly: the ones who are still healthy physically and mentally to join you in preparing and evacuating without a problem, the ones who are healthy enough not to be bedridden or confined to a wheelchair but already possess certain physical limitations that make it hard for them to endure prolonged physical and mental strain, and the last ones are the elderly who are already weak and sick.
Each type will require a different preparation approach. Another thing to consider is if an elderly individual is staying with you, in an assisted living facility or nursing home, or staying alone in their own home or with a caregiver or nurse taking care of them.
General Preparations to Make
Before we get to the specifics of the elderly’s preparation, there are some general preparations that need to be made, regardless if they’re healthy or sick and staying with you or not.
It’s important that seniors, especially those who are generally healthy to do some physical activities, to maintain a healthy physical body. This means doing some light exercises to keep their bones and muscles healthy. It’s important that they maintain a regular exercise schedule to prepare their bodies in case of a disaster in the event they’ll be required to move. Here are some simple exercises seniors can do on a regular basis:
Doing aerobic activities such as brisk walking, swimming, and tennis for 5-minutes for 2 days a week can help greatly. You can gradually increase that until you can do a 30-minute workout.
Leg raises are another simple exercise to do for seniors to help strengthen the lower back, buttocks, and thigh muscles. You can do a side and back leg raise. You use a sturdy chair to hold on to for balance.
Stretching is another exercise to help keep the muscles flexible. Make sure to stretch both the lower and upper body.
Remember to do only low-impact exercises to avoid putting too much strain on the body. It’s also important to consult with your doctors before performing any physical activities
Another preparation that needs to be made is for the mental issues that are part of aging.
Most seniors will not be as mentally sharp as they once were when they were young. So don’t expect them to think and act quickly during a disaster and will likely require your assistance in a lot of things.
You’re also likely to encounter some resistance to change or help. It’s not uncommon for seniors to be stubborn and still think that they are the independent individual they once were. You will need to exercise patience and creative ways of handling this situation instead of getting into an argument.
If your senior parent or grandparent is already suffering from mental problems and might not have the capacity to fully grasp what you’re saying or what the situation is, you’ll need to resort to providing other reasons to make them come with you or follow you. For example, instead of saying you need to leave before the hurricane or fire comes, you can say you’ll visit one of their close friends or relatives.
Another general preparation you can make is to have a copy of all of their latest important documents. These documents would include their latest medical records, especially if they’re taking medications or undergoing treatment, the front page of their passport, driver’s license, and other basic IDs.
You’ll also need copies of other important documents like the last will and testament, medical Advance Directives (like Do Not Resuscitate), and insurance.
These documents are important to have on hand in case something happens or it gets lost during the disaster.
The last general preparation that you need to make is having enough supplies of the medication that your senior is taking. This is actually the most difficult thing when it comes to prepping for the weak and elderly because of several hurdles you need to overcome.
The main hurdle you’ll encounter is getting enough of the prescription medicine that the elderly will need to last you for a certain period. Doctors can usually prescribe as much medication as they would like, but they will generally only prescribe the needed amount for the sickness or care. Requesting more medication will be tricky, and saying it’s because you’re a prepper might not work.
You also have to deal with insurance since most plans will only cover for a certain quantity. Insurance companies usually don’t exceed the quantity limit that they have.
Try looking for alternative medicine to the one they are taking. It would be even better if the alternative medicine can be found in plants or other natural ingredients since you never until when can you find stocks of the prescription medicine during a grid-down scenario.
Now that we got the general preparation out of the way, it’s time to get more specific about what you need to do.
When the elderly is staying with the family
Though it is a common practice in our country to leave the care of our senior parents or grandparents in nursing homes or assisted living, there are still some people who prefer that the elderly stay with them. If this is the case, here’s how you can help them prepare for a disaster.
If the elderly is still fit and healthy – If the senior that is staying with you is fit and healthy, preparing for them will be almost the same as preparing for everyone else. They’ll need their own supply kit, know the plans, what to do, and where to go.
There will still be some slight adjustment when it comes to their supplies since you’ll need to add enough of the medication that the senior is already taking.
Make sure you have plans to keep the medicines cool even without power or if you are bugging out. Some medications are required to be placed in cool storage space, so make sure you prepare for this as well.
You also need to consider stocking up on healthier foods for your senior parents or grandparents’ supply kits. Try looking for healthy recipes that you can make using only basic foods as ingredients.
Don’t hesitate to ask for help from the elderly since they likely possess certain skills or knowledge that would prove to be useful in an SHTF scenario. Your parents or grandparents might know how to use plants as alternative medicines or cook healthy meals with only basic ingredients. They might also possess first aid skills or know-how to repair things. Not all senior citizens are going to be vulnerable or liabilities during a disaster. Their wealth of knowledge and experience can prove to be useful in emergency situations.
If the elderly is sick and weak – there should be a different approach to preparing for a disaster. Of course, the basics will still be needed like their own supply kit that contains the medicine they need and the food they can eat. But you also need to consider other things that they might need.
If a wheelchair is needed, make sure the ones they are currently using is still functioning properly and not yet close to breaking down. Plan on having a spare or other means for them to get around if the wheelchair they are using breaks down.
If they’re using special medical equipment, like a nebulizer, make sure you have all of the materials needed and there are spares available. If it uses electricity, you need to prepare for the possibility of a power outage so the equipment can still be used.
You also need to consider having someone who can support and assist the elderly 24/7 to help him or her with his or her needs.
If your parents or grandparents are already bedridden, you need to make sure the room you placed them in will have all of the things that they will need to meet their medical needs during the duration of the disaster. Also, ensure that someone is watching over them constantly to address whatever it is they need.
Evacuating is going to be a risky option here, but if you really need to bug out, try and arrange for an ambulance (if possible) to make the transfer from your house to the evacuation center more smoothly for the sick and weak. Consider also bugging out early so the chaotic situation won’t add to the stress and strain that the senior will experience during evacuation.
When the elderly are staying in an assisted living facility or nursing home
The main difference between an assisted living facility and a nursing home is that the level of medical care is more complete in a nursing home. In assisted living, there are nurses and medical staff but the primary objective of the facility is just to help the elderly in their day-to-day activities. Elderly who live here are still independent to some degree but they already require the assistance of someone. To prepare your senior relatives who are in assisted living facilities or nursing homes, here’s what you can do.
Get to know what are the plans and procedures of the facility during disasters or emergency situations. It’s important that you know what the facility will do in case of an emergency or disaster to see if your relative will be taken care of properly.
If the facility won’t evacuate the residents, you have to make sure that they’ll have a backup generator ready in case of a power outage and they have enough food, water, and medical supplies to cover all of the needs of the residents. If they will be rationing supplies, ask if there will be a problem if you’ll provide supplies for your relative.
If they do plan to evacuate the residents, make sure that they have proper procedures in place, especially if your relative is already bedridden or is using medical equipment. Ask them if the evacuation place they are going to is capable of accommodating special needs people.
Provide a checklist of the things that your senior relative will need to pack in case of an emergency. Discuss with your relative and the facility’s staff this checklist to know which among the items you placed there are really needed or not when they head out. Some facilities will have their own emergency bag ready for their residents, make sure the bug out bag contains all of the things that your elderly relative will need.
Evaluate the condition of your relative and see where else they might need assistance. If they are using a wheelchair or a crutch, make sure it will be included in their emergency evacuation kit.
You can also consider transferring your relatives or getting them to stay with you before the disaster strikes if you feel the facility doesn’t have enough preparations to ensure the safety and well-being of their residents.
Get the contact details of the person in charge of taking care of your relative and leave your number to him or her as well.
When the elderly is staying home alone or with a caregiver nurse – There are certain senior relatives who still prefer to be independent and will live in a small house or apartment on their own. Some of them will require a caregiver or nurse to assist them, but would still prefer living in their own home instead of a nursing home or assisted living facility. If this is the case, here’s how you can help them prepare.
Make sure the home that they are staying in is equipped and capable of withstanding disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and fire. This means that it contains smoke detectors, windows and doors are sturdy enough and there are no cracks or damages on the walls, ceiling, and foundation.
Having a backup source of power is also important, so a generator is needed in this case. A solar-powered generator is advised since this is easier to store and is lighter to carry than a gas-powered generator. Only go for gas-powered if more power is needed.
Also make sure that there are enough supplies of food, water, and medication in the house. Talk to the nurse or caregiver to know what kind of nutritious food that the elderly eat so the food supply will contain the needed ingredients and items.
Talk to the local government or authorities to know what their plans are in case of a disaster. Ask where the evacuation centers are and what kind of assistance they will give, especially to the elderly. This is important if your senior relative lives in a different city or state.
Make sure there’s a bug out bag ready that contains all the needed supplies in case there’s a need to evacuate. Make sure as well that your relative or the caregiver staying with them knows where to go and how to get to the evacuation center.
If you feel it is the safer option, try convincing your senior relative to stay with you, at least for the duration of the disaster.
Make sure to get the contact number of the caregiver or nurse staying with your relative and give them yours to call you in case of emergencies.
Preparing the weak and elderly for a disaster or grid-down scenario is tricky and challenging, considering they are vulnerable during these times. But this vulnerability is the very reason why we need to do our best in helping them prepare.
With the right knowledge, approach, and preparation, our elderly relatives will survive even in an SHTF scenario. If you enjoy this article, please click the like button and share it on social media. If you have any suggestions or have additional tips, please put it in the comment section below.