For About and By Caregivers
Caregiving in the Aftermath of a Storm ó Preparation

By Janie Rosman


Dadís limited mobility makes him irritable at times. While unsteady with a walker, heís happy to get outside for fresh air. Given that the front of our apartment building was under siege ó er, construction ó for two months while crews replaced the brick and pavement, Dad had exceeded his cabin-fever limit.

The back entrance was difficult to navigate so he stayed indoors, save for a few doctorsí visits or the occasional trip to the barber. Thus it was cruel coincidence that, no sooner was the work completed and Dad was able to walk out the front entrance ó and take advantage of the newly-constructed sidewalk lip ó that Mother Nature told him no with forceful winds and torrential rains.

Luckily, we didnít lose power, although traffic signals three blocks away were non-functioning. I worried we would, and knew it would be different from what we experienced several summers earlier. Then, Dad was in better health and able to walk the stairwell ó or our apartment ó with a flashlight, relying on his recognition and special familiarity.

The aftermath of a storm requires quick thinking to assess immediate needs and replenish losses. Dadís recent inability to leave the apartment was aggravated more by the fact that his free will to do it was blunted by weather and warnings.

Caregivers who listen, and who say the right things at the right times, provide the best assistance; itís important for them to know what to say and do before reaching out. Traumatic experiences cloud judgment and ability to think clearly; often people feel out of control of their surroundings and feelings. Having a plan and a protocol can help caregivers remain in control and be prepared, so they will know what to do and say.

During the recent East Coast hurricane, a huge tree on one friendís property was uprooted; it sprawled across his lawn and the street, pulling down a power line and leaving him and his family without electricity. Level-headed and calm, he immediately called the insurance company to assess the damage to his roof, and the village to remove the tree that blocked the street; the local utility company was also contacted about the downed power line. His caregiving responsibility was to keep his family, and the community, safe.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration on Agingís National Caregiver Support Program summarizes emergency readiness in three steps:

1. Know the basics and learn about risks to your community; learn how to turn off gas and electricity, and know your neighbors.

2. Keep emergency supplies that you need to survive until help arrives; these should include a personal evacuation bag thatís partially packed and ready.

3. Make a personal plan regarding special needs and medications, medical equipment, mobility, and support services to increase likelihood that those needs will be met in emergency situations.

There are many types of emergencies that cause various disruptions, and with varying levels of intensity. While a flashlight or portable radio or extra batteries might never be needed, they may very well come in handy during surprise weather. On a personal note, I suggest memorizing the layout of the home ó where a table ends, where a wall starts ó and rearrange furniture for safe passage through rooms.

The basic safety tips followed during the storm will make its aftermath a great deal easier, especially if youíre able to remain at home. Stay safe and remain at home until given the ďall clearĒ signal to venture outside. Live wires from downed power lines, trees and branches may be on the ground or hanging precariously, so wait until authorities clear the area.

Donít touch fallen or low-hanging wires. The person you care for may not want to alter his or her walking path or schedule; however, if a certain street is temporarily off-limits, heed the warning and use an alternative route.

If you lost power, check with a local food pantry to see if supplies are available. When power is restored, check refrigerated food for spoilage and if spoiled, discard those items. Medicine such as liquid antibiotics may lose its potency or go bad without refrigeration; tell the doctor or pharmacy if you need refills.

Caregiving is stressful and exhausting, and a natural crisis adds to the caregiverís stress. While most professional caregivers have faced some kind of dramatic event at some point during their career, itís always a good idea to have emotional support and to be prepared, both to lessen the caregiverís worry and that of the person in his or her care.

If relocation is necessary, this stressful time can be lightened by talking about fond memories or journaling those memories. Home caregivers and those in their care can look ahead to a new environment and perhaps find new routines to help acclimate.

Ways to reduce excessive worry in the aftermath of extreme weather or other natural disasters include:

  • Decide how much information to give the person in your care. Watching and listening to the news in a separate room is helpful if graphics or pictures would disturb the person.

  • Maintain your routine and that of the person in your care as close as possible to regular schedules and be ready to act if the situation changes or becomes worse.

  • Avoid excessive alcohol and smoking; alcohol can cloud or distort judgment.

  • Inform family members or trusted friends if evacuation is necessary. If it is, leave early to avoid traffic or before traffic becomes heavy.

  • Enlist help from family members when possible.

  • Secure help from sources and non-profit agencies that provide storm or natural disaster relief.

The caregiver may not be able to get to work after a storm or natural disaster, and those with critical needs might need to be cared for in a hospital until the caregiver can get back on schedule. Keep handy a list of area hospitals, and have an escape plan in case of last-minute evacuation. Preparation and planning help ease the stresses of unexpected emergencies.

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