Caregiving for Older Loved Ones through Natural Disasters
By Sara Powers, PhD | 01/18/2022
In the aftermath of the recent tornado in Kentucky, hundreds have been left without homes and are now tasked with rebuilding their futures. For caregivers, preparing for and responding to the aftermath of a natural disaster comes with the additional challenge of protecting the safety and needs of a vulnerable loved one. This challenge can be compounded further by a loved one’s disability or illness. Whether we live in the South and need to prepare for hurricane season and flooding, live in the West and face earthquakes and wildfires, or live in the North and risk snow- and ice-related power outages, it is crucial for us to be proactive when taking care of a loved one during a disaster. A helpful way to stay prepared is by developing an emergency preparedness plan.
Here are some tips to help us plan for natural disasters and prepare for emergencies that may unexpectedly impact our caregiving efforts:
Start the conversation and create a plan.
As outlined by the American Psychological Association, older adults are typically the least prepared when disasters hit. It’s never too early for us to sit down with a loved one and start the conversation about preparing for disasters and emergencies. What are their potential evacuation routes? Where are the closest designated storm shelters? If we do not live with the loved one we care for, we can include neighbors in discussions about their emergency plan to better facilitate evacuations, communication and disaster preparation when we cannot get to a loved one right away.
Create an emergency kit and checklist.
A helpful method of proactively responding to an emergency is developing a checklist and preparing a kit with useful information and supplies related to a loved one’s needs. Do they need insulin, special food accommodations or take medications? Our kit should include:
- A current list of all medications and dosages
- A 4 to 7-day supply of all medications
- Medical equipment a loved one needs such as oxygen or hearing aids
- Insurance cards and benefit information, including:
- Social Security
- Homeowner’s Insurance
- Flood insurance
- Legal documents, including:
- Advance Directives
- Power of Attorney
We should try to keep important documents and medications in waterproof containers and pack some cash with us in case we need to buy additional supplies. We can also use RxOpen after a disaster to track which pharmacies are open to replenish medications as needed. For further advice, read the Federal Emergency Management Agency handout.
Consider a loved one’s needs during and after the emergency.
It is important for us to consider how a loved one may respond to an emergency situation, react to an evacuation procedure and cope with the aftermath of a natural disaster. For caregivers of loved ones with dementia, staying at a community shelter may be complicated by their memory loss, confusion or difficult behavior. In this situation, we can consider creating an “awareness card” that we can hand out to shelter volunteers to inform them of a loved one’s condition and help them better understand our needs as a caregiver.
Once we are back at home with a loved love one, we should be aware of credit card scams, fraudulent contractors or fake charitable donation requests. AARP’s “Dealing with Disaster” manual provides more steps we can take to protect loved ones against fraud and identity theft after a disaster.
We can also consider:
- Advocating for more formalized crisis training in our area
- Speaking with fellow caregivers through local or online support groups to learn what steps they have taken to prepare
- Talking with staff at hospitals or care facilities about emergency plans
- Seeking counsel and guidance from a local place of worship
It’s important to be mindful of our own capabilities in an emergency so we know when to ask for help, and to remember we are not alone. There are resources that can help us as we prepare and respond to disasters that occur.
For more information about finding relief after a disaster, check out the National Council on Aging’s Benefit’s Check Up.