Disaster Preparedness and the Elderly

disaster_preparedness Disaster preparedness isn’t seasonal and shouldn’t be a gambling matter.  Senior citizens may be feeling pretty lucky that the Knoxville area has dodged the winter weather disaster bullet so far.  While folks may not think of East Tennessee as a “high-risk” area for natural disasters, they do happen and everyone needs to be prepared.  As Elder Care Coordinator for Elder Law of East Tennessee, I wanted to share some wisdom on this subject from a close friend and respected professional.

Susan Millard, a Disaster Mental Health Manager with the American Red Cross, has responded to local and national events such as the aftermath of the 2002 tornados in Morgan and Cumberland Counties, a railway chemical spill in Knoxville, numerous hurricanes in Florida (2004 & 2005), and even New York City following 9-11.

Susan has first-hand knowledge about the physical and emotional impact seniors can face when a disaster strikes.  “As a general rule, seniors are our vulnerable population. Children under six and adults over sixty or more likely to be injured or killed in a disaster.”  Thinking ahead, being realistic, and developing a plan is key.  Millard advises seniors to “have enough food, water, and medications to survive for a minimum of three days.  If the disaster were to result in prolonged displacement, have a plan for relocation.  Who could help transport the senior and take care of them once they arrive?”

In a disaster, three days can pass quickly without much improvement or access to help.  All Things First Aid, the American Red Cross, and FEMA have comprehensive suggestions that will help ensure seniors are as prepared as possible for any untoward event.  All these sources stress the need for preplanning with a heavy emphasis on communicating the plan to others.  From Susan’s experience, “one of the major hurdles during a disaster is family members trying to locate their loved one(s).  It may take days or weeks to determine if everyone is okay.  Both parties – the senior and their family members – should have an advance plan to contact each other in the event of an emergency.”

But what about the emotional aspect of coping with a disaster?   “It may depend on the senior’s history of coping in past situations,” says Millard.  “Seniors have a lot of life experience and may be quite resilient.  On the other hand, if the senior has dementia, anxiety, or depression, their symptoms may exacerbate.  Having to relocate creates additional stress.  Being prepared, realizing that change is a part of life, and having a support system is key to survival in any situation.”  Good words to take to heart.  No need to play the odds-be prepared.