In March, during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic here in the United States, Google searches for terms like “emergency preparedness” and “disaster preparedness” shot up dramatically. Our ongoing situation with COVID highlights the vital importance of always planning ahead and expecting the unexpected — especially for seniors and caregivers.
While it’s not the most enjoyable subject to think about, the reality is that disasters and emergency situations can spring up in the blink of an eye. In Chicago and the surrounding suburbs, for example, our friends and neighbors are vulnerable to all sorts of difficult conditions — from extreme heat waves, to frigid cold snaps, to severe weather events like tornadoes and floods.
In these difficult scenarios, older adults are often among the most vulnerable. Aging.com, for example, notes that adults 65 or older made up almost two-thirds of fatalities during Chicago’s legendary 1995 heat wave. Additional studies have found that about one in six older adults “would need help evacuating their homes in an emergency,” yet less than a quarter of seniors have actually made plans for responding to a natural disaster.
For seniors, aging in place means greater freedom and flexibility, and the opportunity to continue to live an enriched and active lifestyle. But it also comes with responsibilities — including the duty to create plans and respond to an emergency situation or disaster.
Do you have an emergency preparedness plan in place for your senior loved one? We’re here to help seniors and caregivers start down this important road — backed by expert guidance from organizations including the Red Cross, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Department of Homeland Security.
Creating an Emergency Preparedness Plan for Seniors
For older adults and the family caregivers who love and support them, it’s important to have a plan in place to respond to unexpected emergencies and scary situations. As you talk over ideas and plans with your loved ones and their caregiving network, be sure to think about the most likely scenarios, and prep your responses accordingly. Here in Chicagoland, for instance, that might include extreme cold snaps and blizzards, heat waves, and tornadoes.
Ready to put your response plan into place? Here are some expert-approved tips and guidelines:
- Make communication a priority. The CDC encourages choosing a person or group who will be designated to check in on a senior during a disaster, as well as the best method of communication to use (say, calling by telephone or knocking on their door). If necessary, make sure the senior’s closest emergency contact has a key to their home. Develop a check-in system by working with the senior’s neighbors and any professional caregivers; create a phone tree; and make sure everyone has access to a list of emergency contacts.
- Stay informed and updated. Awareness is the first step to preparedness. Ready.gov recommends monitoring TV, radio and mobile alerts to stay on top of severe weather warnings.
- Know how to get around. As the CDC puts it: “plan how you will leave and where you will go during an evacuation.” Choose a meeting place for seniors to check in with their emergency contacts. Work with local officials to get access to a community disaster plan, which may have vital information like which roads will stay open, and where people can receive medical care and supplies. There are also services you can sign up for, such as SMARt911 or Code Red, which can help first responders identify older adults who may need care and assistance right away.
- Practice, practice, practice. Run drills and talk over emergency situations with family and friends. Keep a written copy of your emergency response plan in a safe and accessible place, such as pinned to the fridge or stored in with your emergency supply kit. In addition to having a key, make sure that the senior and any of their helpers (such as neighbors, close family members, or professional caregivers) know where the senior keeps their emergency supplies and how to use any relevant medical equipment.
Creating Emergency Supply Kits
Experts recommend stocking up before a disaster or emergency situation in three key ways — by preparing a store of essential supplies; by gathering medical supplies and prescriptions; and by keeping personal information and essential documents safe and accessible.
Creating a Disaster Supplies Kit for Seniors
Ready.gov recommends having these supplies on hand:
- Bottled water
- A three-day supply of non-perishable food (such as canned and packaged goods) and a can opener
- Pet food
- Battery-powered radio
- Fully stocked first aid kit
- Extra batteries
- Face coverings and masks
- Blankets and sheets
- Duct tape, garbage bags, and plastic ties
- Basic tools (such as wrench or pliers)
- Local maps
- Cell phone with charger and backup battery
DHS recommends keeping this kit “in a designated place” and having it ready “in case you have to leave your home quickly.” Make sure all family members or caregivers know where the emergency kit is kept. Be sure to replace expired food or supplies, and maintain and update your kit as your individual needs change over time.
Stocking a Medical Supplies Kit for Seniors
It’s incredibly important that seniors have access to all of the medical supplies and equipment they need in an emergency. Here’s what the CDC recommends keeping on hand for emergencies:
- A three-day supply of prescription medicines, at minimum.
- Cooler and ice packs for medications that need to be kept refrigerated
- Medical ID band (which includes the adult’s full name, a contact number for a family member or caregiver, known allergies, and serious health conditions)
- Hearing aids, along with extra batteries
- Prescription glasses and contacts (plus contact solution)
- Syringes, gauze pads, bandages, antiseptic solutions, and other basic first aid equipment
- Durable medical equipment and assistive devices, such as wheelchairs, walkers, and oxygen equipment
Storing Key Documents and Information
Finally, it’s important to have copies of a senior’s vital records and personal information ready to go in case of an emergency. The CDC recommends keeping these crucial documents in a waterproof bag, and taking photos with a digital camera in case you need a backup.
According to the CDC, important documents and papers might include:
- Contact information for family members, health care providers, and caregivers
- A medication list, including names, dosages, and a schedule for all prescription and OTC drugs
- A list of food and medicine allergies
- Insurance cards
- Social Security card
- Photo ID
- Contact information for utility providers
- Legal documents, such as durable powers of attorney or advanced healthcare directives
Have Any More Questions? Companions for Seniors Is Here for You
Want to talk about other ways to help prepare your elderly loved ones for a potential emergency situation? Need to connect with local resources near you, but not sure where to start?
We’re always here and ready to help in any way we can. Don’t hesitate to get in touch with Companions for Seniors whenever you want to discuss the best plan of action for yourself and your elderly family.
At Companions for Seniors, our mission is to help seniors live independently and with dignity in the comfort of their own home by empowering them to lead an active and enriched lifestyle, connecting them with their community, and nurturing meaningful relationships.
Our companions are trained and bonded, and can help provide a variety of services designed to help seniors remain in the comfort of their own homes, including providing assistance with housekeeping, activities of daily living (ADLs), driving services, and more.
We’re here to offer guidance and provide support, no matter what life brings. Get in touch online using our handy online portal, or give us a call at 866-910-9020 to get the conversation started today.