Disaster Preparedness for Elder Loved Ones
By Dana Carr

Itís no secret that a large percentage of deaths in Katrina-ravaged New Orleans were our sick and our elderly. Even institutions built to safeguard our elderly loved ones were ill-equipped to handle a disaster of this magnitude.

In his September 19, 2005 report, New York Times reporter David Rohde exposes Katrinaís impact on nursing homes and hospitals. About 60% of nursing homes failed to evacuate successfully before the storm hit. Many nursing home operators feared their frailest residents would die on the buses leaving town.  So far, more than 150 of the deaths in New Orleans were patients in hospitals and nursing homes.

This report should be a wake-up call to all families with elderly loved ones. What would happen in the event of a major earthquake? Or even in other areas of the US where unanticipated disasters such as tornados, floods or fires could occur. The damage could be even more extensive due to the element of surprise.  

No one likes to plan for the worst. However, objectively considering the possibility of a disaster and developing a contingency plan is exactly whatís needed to offset the tremendous impact such an event could have on our elderly loved ones and on us. Even if your loved one resides in an assisted-living facility, there is no guarantee the employees would elevate your loved oneís interest ahead of their own familyís safety. Indeed, you may be called upon to transport and care for your loved one until the situation stabilizes.

Are you prepared to care for your loved one?  Do you have a weekís supply of their daily medications? How will you transport your loved one?

Here is a brief checklist of tasks that should be completed now. Completion of these tasks will help prepare you to effectively and efficiently handle any emergency.

  • Provide the facility with in-state and out-of-state emergency contact information.

  • Find out if the facility has a website where they will post information in case of a major emergency.

  • Keep a current copy of your loved oneís medical requirements with you. Arrange with the doctors, pharmacy and/or facility to have at least a seven day supply of each of their medications. 

  • Prepare a bag that you can carry with you to the facility if the roads are out. It should contain a portion of each of the following items.

  • Stock disposable rubber gloves, antibacterial gels, adult diapers, wipes, skin creams and a supply of plastic bags to dispose of any waste. Elders with special medical needs require special hygiene products. 

  • You should have a change of clothes for your elder family member.  Many elders in facilities always wear a nightgown or very light clothing.  If you need to bring them home, they will need shoes, socks, sweaters, jackets, etc. 

  • For dementia or Alzheimerís patients, make sure your loved one always wears their medic alert bracelet. It contains the appropriate contact and medical information. You may also want to consider putting an emergency pack in their room with all of the pertinent information about their care in writing

Meet with other family members and discuss the following questions.

  • Which family member is closest to the facility should transportation become necessary? 

  • Who is responsible for moving the loved one? Also, establish a backup person.

  • If the loved one canít be moved, who can stay in the facility with them?

The bottom line is that we are the primary caregivers to our loved ones during an emergency, not the facilities they live in.  Itís in our loved oneís best interest to take responsibility for their care in the event of a disaster rather than for one hospital administrator to care for all of the patients in their charge. 



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