Baylor College of Medicine

Tips help seniors prepare for natural disasters

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Walking in rain

As hurricane season begins, it is a good idea to prepare your home with essentials such as extra water bottles, flash lights and non-perishable foods. However, an expert at Baylor College of Medicine says having medical information readily available is key to being prepared for a hurricane, especially for elder adults who may live alone or with a caregiver.

“When preparing for a hurricane or other natural disaster, it is important to ensure that older adults have at least seven to 14 days of medication,” said Dr. Angela Catic, assistant professor in the Huffington Center on Aging at Baylor. “Ideally, the medication should be kept in clearly labeled pill bottles with instructions for use so that individuals unfamiliar with the elder’s medication regime could assist if needed.”

In addition, Catic suggests that all assistive devices such as walking canes, walkers and hearing aids should be labeled with their name, phone number and address. “If possible, it may be useful to have a second cane or walker in an emergency preparedness kit in case the one used daily is damaged or lost during the natural disaster,” she said.

For elders who use oxygen tanks, she recommends having the contact information for the oxygen supply company readily available in the emergency kit so they can be easily contacted if delivery of tanks is delayed following a hurricane. Catic suggests packing an emergency kit that contains extra batteries for medical devices, including hearing aid batteries and any needed personal care supplies such as adult protective undergarments, baby wipes and urinary catheter supplies.

In case of a natural disaster, elder adults should have a discussion with family and friends to establish a plan. “This is especially important for elders who have cognitive impairment but still live in their own home. The individual who is designated to check on the elder should have a key to the home and know where they keep their disaster preparedness kit,” Catic said.

During a hurricane, Catic said not to panic. Caregivers should be aware of and maintain an elder’s normal routine as much as possible. “This includes ensuring they have their medication, access to needed medical equipment and devices and appropriate food and drink that meet any dietary restrictions, such as low-salt foods and diabetic appropriate options. Caregivers should ensure that elders have appropriate clothing so that they are kept warm and dry. In elders with cognitive impairment, it may be useful for them to have an object they find comforting such as a certain blanket, family photos or familiar music,” she said.

For those who may not have family nearby, places like community and religious organizations can be helpful in assisting elders in assembling an emergency kit and providing someone to check on them during a hurricane. “If evacuation is required, the Texas Department of Transportation website contains information about evacuation routes. It states that elders or disabled individuals who require assistance with evacuation should call 2-1-1. Elders should also register with the local emergency management office,” she said.

Caregivers should also consider early evacuation to an area likely to retain power and services if a significant hurricane is predicted, Catic said.

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