- Prepare for both home emergencies and natural disasters
- Make sure that all family members are involved in emergency planning and have access to vital information
- Communication is critical in any emergency planning. Develop a communication protocol among family members
- Reassess your plan as needed, especially when healthcare information or the condition of your loved one changes
- If your loved one is in senior living, assess their plan as well and make certain you get a copy of the emergency policy
As a caregiver, you have to expect the unexpected. You can’t plan for everything, but there are some emergency plans you can put in place that may prevent a worse outcome. Planning gives you and your loved one some peace of mind. Two ways to think about planning are:
- Consider day-to-day emergencies that can happen to someone as they age
- Plan for natural disasters
Types of Emergencies to Prepare For
Some emergencies occur in the home, and natural disasters which are happening with more frequency. Here are some emergencies you may need to prepare for, but the list is not exhaustive:
- Medication Mismanagement
- Hurricanes or other severe weather events
- Extreme heat
Things to have in place
- Health Care Information
The first step in creating an emergency plan is to centralize all of your loved one’s health information.
- All healthcare information should be updated regularly by one appointed person and include all physicians with phone numbers, current medication lists, allergies to medications, diagnoses, insurance information, and advance directives
- In the event of a natural disaster, having copies of all health care information in a cloud-based server will come in very handy
- Many families opt to store the information in an online portal where every authorized person has access to health information
- Alternatively, you can have paper copies of healthcare information in a safe (But make sure all interested parties have access!)
- If you have an Elder Law or Estate Planning Attorney, or Financial Advisor, they often have secure means of storing healthcare information
- Healthcare Power of Attorney
During an emergency, having healthcare power of attorney will be critical.
- Without someone in the family having healthcare power of attorney, obtaining healthcare information or advocating for your loved one will be next to impossible
- With a healthcare power of attorney, you can speak with physicians, obtain medical records, and in some circumstances, make decisions on behalf of your loved one
- In some states, these documents are easy to set up and don’t require an attorney Contact an estate planning attorney who can walk you through your state’s requirements if you are unsure
- An Emergency Response System (ERS)
Preventing falls may not be possible, but an ERS will alert emergency personnel when someone falls. An ERS is a device that someone wears that can detect a fall or be pushed at will for emergency assistance.
If your loved one lives in assisted living, they will have an ERS. However, if someone lives at home, they will need to purchase or rent one. Convincing your loved one to wear it may be a challenge. Some older adults don’t like the stigma of a pendant. If this is the case, suggest a watch-type system that might be more agreeable. Some common features of an ERS include:
- ERSs are very sophisticated with fall detection and GPS
- Some watch systems will alert the wearer of an irregular heartbeat or Afib
- When someone falls, most systems allow the person to either push a button or respond to an operator to let them know they are safe
- If the person does not respond, the system calls phone numbers that have been programmed into the system. 911 is usually first followed by family members
- A GPS tracker will show you where your loved one is within a specific range
- Cell Phone
If your loved one has a landline, that is fine, but encourage them to get a cell phone. A cell phone has many advantages:
- Your loved one can use a cell phone to call you when they are away from home- for example, if they need help on the road
- A cell phone works when the power goes out
- As a caregiver, you can call your loved one wherever they are, assuming they have the phone with them
- Someone doesn’t have to make their way to a landline to take a call. Most older adults adjust very easily to carrying a cell phone with them at all times
Smartphones can be intimidating for some, so consider flip phones like the Lively or Jitterbug. Even a tablet might work for your loved one, such as the Consumer Cellular Grandpad. Also, post vital phone numbers in an accessible location such as the refrigerator.
- An Emergency Kit
Putting together an emergency kit may seem daunting at first, but you are largely finished once you have it put together. You may need an emergency kit during a natural disaster, when the power goes out, or even a minor injury at home. This list is not exhaustive but will give you a start.
- Include a two-week supply of medications
- Non-perishable food
- A change of clothes. Don’t forget warm clothes in particular.
- Hygiene products
- Flashlight and batteries
- Phone numbers, and
- Medical supplies
Cash is an excellent commodity to keep on hand in case you aren’t able to withdraw funds from a bank. Opinions vary on how much to have on hand, but $1000-$2000 is a good number. Keeping the cash safe from flood or fire is crucial, so a safe will work. Some people even recommend a waterproof case to bury in the backyard.
Communicating and Discussing an Emergency Plan
- Meet as a Family and discuss the plan
Meet as a family first to discuss the emergency plan
- If it isn’t possible to meet in person, schedule something virtual
- Everyone needs input, and once the protocol is in place, all family members should be clear on the plan
- Discuss all of the components of the emergency plan and assign each member of the family-specific tasks like gathering the medical information or putting together the emergency kit
- Start with what is already in place. Some family members may not know, for example, that you have advance directives and medical information
- Review current medical issues that your loved one has and potential future problems
- Make a list of what components are needed for the plan, like an emergency kit.
- Assign family members tasks with deadlines
- Schedule a time to reconvene to go over what has been accomplished and what still remains
- Consider typing up all relevant information to follow if there is a natural disaster and where to find pertinent details. A cloud-based service is a good option for this
- What to Include in Your Communications Plan
A communication plan is one where all members of the family and others are kept apprised of the situation. There is nothing worse than being left out during an emergency and not knowing if everyone is safe.
- One suggestion is to have a group text or some other medium of communication in place in the event of a natural disaster. With one designated person in charge, they can update the group on what is happening
- If your loved one requires assistance getting out of the home due to mobility issues, it might be best to designate one person to help. That way, several people aren’t responding at once
- Have an agreed-upon meeting place for everyone in case of emergency. In some situations, your locality will have set up shelters or have designated buildings for people who need them. Sign up for emergency alerts and know your community's emergency response plan
TIP: Communication is Key
One of the key components of emergency planning as a caregiver is communication. If you have other family members involved in the care of your loved one, they too need access to all information. You are probably familiar with the typical scenario where each family member has pieces of information, and when an emergency occurs, chaos ensues.
Senior Living Emergency Plans
If your loved one is in senior living, they should have an emergency plan in place. Ask to see the procedure (which should be in writing) so that you know where to fill in the gaps. The CDC has guidelines for assisted living emergency evacuation plans that you can review. Things to look for in a good emergency plan for assisted living:
- Ask what the evacuation plan is. In assisted living, many people, including your loved one, might have mobility issues
- Where are residents evaluated to? Ask for the location so you can make a note of it
- If the air conditioning fails, what is the plan to keep residents cool?
- What is the communication system with families during an emergency? Ask if group text alerts are an option.
- What is the protocol for virus outbreaks such as COVID?
Emergency Planning for Peace of Mind
It is easy to delay planning for something that may or may not happen like most things in life. As the primary caregiver, you have many responsibilities, and it can be challenging to find the time to do emergency planning. Some tips on how to get started:
- Gather all of your loved one’s medical information. This may be the most time-consuming part of the process.
- Schedule a family meeting to discuss an emergency plan. Consider assigning people tasks.
- Have deadlines for completion so that everyone stays focused
Once you have your emergency plan in place, you can rest easy knowing you have done what you can to prepare for the unexpected.
Amanda Lambert is a nationally certified Care Manager and a member of The Aging Life Care Association. She has 25+ years oof experience working with elders
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