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Tuesday, February 19 , 2019, 7:42 am | Fair 35º

Your Health

A Seniors’ Guide to Staying Safe in a Disaster

Advance preparations are the best response to an emergency situation

Disasters by definition are sudden and disruptive. Being prepared can save valuable time and possibly lives. Most people who have achieved senior status have usually lived through more than one disaster and may be able to offer a calming and reassuring presence during the next one. Often, however, the aging process can make our senior population especially vulnerable. Dementia, chronic illnesses, diminished sensory awareness and mobility issues can interfere with a senior’s ability to prepare and respond to an emergency situation.

Leeana McNeilley
Leeana McNeilley

Frail seniors can be affected more severely by a disaster than those in good health and may be dependent on caregivers for assistance with their daily activities. Disasters can create conditions, such as excessive cold or heat, lack of safe food and water sources, and stress that adversely affect and aggravate chronic conditions from which seniors may suffer.

In the initial phases of a disaster, the emphasis needs to be on personal responsibility. In a large-scale disaster, emergency responders will have to take time to organize and reach the scene. The senior will be relying on his or her own preparations and safety net until the rescuers are able to reach the scene.

To prevent feeling overwhelmed about preparing for a disaster, older adults should focus primarily on the disasters common in their area. Help from a caregiver, family member, or neighbor can help the senior organize and take a few simple steps to prepare for a disaster. In Santa Barbara, our all-too-frequent disasters are wildfires and earthquakes, and preparations should be focused on responding to those.

The essential preparations that should be made include:

1. A “to-go” kit that includes:

» Ready to eat food and water to last three days

» A two-week supply of prescription medications

» First aid supplies, flashlights, portable radios and backup batteries

» A change of clothes and blanket

» A small amount of cash ($20)

» A list of medications, and copies of prescriptions, physicians, contacts, pharmacies and other emergency information in a waterproof bag or container, as well as copies of essential documents such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, Social Security card, and Medicare, Medicaid and other insurance cards.

2. A backup list of all important documents and essential records kept in a different location, such as a friend or relative’s house who lives out of the area.

3. An emergency plan listing where to go in an emergency and a plan outlining how to get there. This plan should include provisions for any pets.

4. A list of additional items that should be taken, including eyeglasses, oxygen and hearing aids with batteries.

5. Develop a plan to communicate with family members so everyone is reporting to one key person outside the immediate area.

The saying goes, “If you carry an umbrella, it won’t rain.” Making basic provisions for an emergency can help relieve the stress and anxiety that can accompany a disaster, and provide peace of mind in the event there is no emergency.

Click here for more information about Help Unlimited or to find the right home care agency for your elder parent, or call 805.962.4646.

— Leeana McNeilley is director at Help Unlimited.

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