GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

November 8, 2012

Prepare well before the storm

Senior Lookout Anne Springer
Gloucester Daily Times

---- — We dodged a bullet. But the next bad storm might take better aim on Cape Ann than Hurricane Sandy or this week’s nor’easter did. One lesson we can glean from our neighbors in the Mid-Atlantic region is that seniors are often the least prepared for such emergencies.

When the power goes off, elevators and oxygen machines don’t run; heat, phone, and lights may be off; emergency response units don’t function; food and water may dwindle quickly, and seniors can find themselves in a difficult situation with little assistance from others, virtually trapped in their homes or apartments. Even those who consider themselves relatively mobile, because they still drive, can have difficulty if ATMs and gas pumps aren’t working and they’re unable to walk the distance to the nearest store.

For elderly people with chronic illnesses, mobility issues or cognitive impairments, the dangers of mega storms, or other disasters, are not trivial. Statistics show that elders often die in disproportionate numbers to other age groups in disaster situations, possibly because, without computer access or transportation, they may not be able to take advantage of shelters that are miles from home or emergency instructions delivered over the Internet.

In many areas, an area agency on aging, disability agency, senior center, day care center or other facility that is familiar with their own consumers tries to locate the older adult to verify his or her status or to offer help. Care managers and other staff at SeniorCare cooperate with local senior centers and police departments to identify and serve those of their consumers who, by virtue of their physical frailty or lack of family assistance, might need shelter, or a wellness check. Participants in the Meals on Wheels service from SeniorCare can receive several shelf-stable emergency meals, in advance, to keep on hand in their homes in case of power failures.

However, individuals who aren’t already being served by a senior center, or other care agency, may be totally off the radar screen, virtually “invisible” to emergency response planners. This is where family and community involvement becomes critical. No one wants their loved one or neighbor to have to wait in the dark, or cold, or worse, for a door to door check by the National Guard! The time to “check on elderly family and neighbors” is now, when preparation is still possible, and not when a storm is approaching or after an earthquake, tornado, or flood has already occurred. Helping an elderly relative or friend to develop an emergency plan, have a grab ‘n’ go bag, or have an emergency supply of non-perishable food, medications, and medical supplies, can save a life.

After Hurricane Katrina, AARP produced a report, well worth reading, titled “We Can do Better — Lessons Learned for Protecting Older Persons in Disasters” (http://assets.aarp.org/rgcenter/il/better.pdf).

The Centers for Disease Control publication, “Disaster Planning Tips for Older Adults and their Families,” (http://www.cdc.gov/aging/pdf/disaster_planning_tips.pdf) also has some good suggestions, as well as a comprehensive list of educational links at the end of the article.

For information on how to develop a plan, build an emergency kit, or support community preparedness, visit Ready.gov. Are you prepared?

Anne Springer is the public relations director of SeniorCare Inc., Cape Ann’s local area agency on aging. To reach SeniorCare, call 978-281-1750.