If you found yourself evacuating for Irma a couple weeks ago, and if you are of senior age or were responsible for evacuating an elderly loved one, you most likely experienced some of the unique risks of evacuating senior adults during emergency situations.
The trip itself can be long if you find yourself needing to get far enough away from the path of the storm. Add lots of traffic into the equation and the nightmare begins. Irma was so large that we traveled more than three hours away and still felt many of the effects, including loss of power for a brief period of time.
There’s no doubt that older adults feel greater adverse effects from evacuating than any other group of people. A study performed in 2011 concluded that older adults who were evacuated were far more likely than those who sheltered in place to have serious or even deadly health conditions develop within 30 days. Unfamiliar surroundings, crowded conditions, less than desirable sleeping arrangements and the break in a normal daily routine is enough to cause much anxiety.
One must also have a very good system for keeping up with medications while evacuated. A variance in the way medications are taken can also be a reason for extreme concern. And if you are evacuating a family member who has a memory-related condition associated with dementia, enormous care (beyond the already great amount of care that is given) must be offered throughout the entire evacuation time – and then some once everyone returns.
When you weigh all the facts, sheltering in place may actually be a better option for many older adults than evacuating. However, a viral photo of seniors sitting in waist-deep water during Hurricane Harvey last month in Texas, and the recent tragic death of nursing home residents in Florida, will continue to heighten the tendency to evacuate for most major storms.
Not that this is necessarily bad, but certain specific actions need to happen to help keep seniors more safe during evacuations.
First, expect the unexpected. Murphy’s Law typically applies here. So be prepared to respond to an unexpected situation so your reaction can be measured and appropriate. Otherwise, a knee-jerk reaction will always cause more harm than good for your loved one.
Second, have a plan for constant oversight. When seniors are evacuated from their familiar surroundings, they will have a need to have someone with them at all times. This is as much for comfort as it is for safety, and both are extremely important during an evacuation.
Third, but just as important as our first two recommendations, keep all medications organized and in a safe place. Follow the instructions on the label and keep a contact number for your pharmacist handy in case you have any questions.
Lastly, don’t expect everything to get back to normal once you return home. Your loved one has just been through a dramatic and possibly traumatic experience. Much time is needed until life gets back to "normal." It may take a couple weeks until your family member feels safe and secure once more. A good shower, much rest and increased quiet time will help with this transition. Then slow, but sure, start to introduce the activities that were part of her original routine. Within time your loved one will feel like himself or herself again.
But stay observant. If your loved one continues to have emotional and/or physical challenges after returning home, make an appointment with their primary care physician to rule out a possible infection or other health condition. Do not take it for granted that all will be well once the storm is over.
If you’re saying, "I could have used this information two weeks ago," remember the peak of hurricane season is still to come. Stay safe my friends.
Contact him at 912-531-7867 or email him at SeniorMomentsWithRich@gmail.com.