Superstorm Sandy reminds us that caregivers must have disaster plans in place

Chicagoland just might get lucky this time. Although waves the height of two-story buildings are forecast for Lake Michigan and heavy wind advisories are blanketing the suburbs, we’ve seen much, much worse.

Still, being primarily a spectator of Superstorm Sandy takes my mind back to 2005 when I lived in Southern Utah during one of the worst floods the area had ever seen. As the director of the Alzheimer’s Association’s regional office, I was deluged with calls from caregivers wanting to know how to protect their loved ones during this time of crisis.

What if we have to evacuate our home? How will I get the medicine my husband needs? How will I care for my mom in a shelter? What should we pack?

Almost as disturbing as the flood’s effects was the realization that most caregivers did not have a disaster plan in place. I did not blame them for this – in fact, I blamed myself and other organizations for not providing more education and outreach on this topic. Caregivers have enough on their plates without having to invent a disaster plan on their own without any resources.

So whether or not you are affected by Superstorm Sandy, let this event be an impetus for caregivers to plan for disasters so that they and their loved ones can stay safe.

© Laura Griffith
© Laura Griffith

Here are some things to do:

Verify those who can help you. If you have to evacuate your home, where will you stay? Don’t just assume that you can stay with a relative or friend – have the conversation. Also identify physicians and other health care professionals in the area where you will be staying so that you can get your loved one medical care as soon as you arrive.

Learn how to obtain prescriptions and specialized care. Are you caring for someone who takes prescription medications, uses medical equipment, or who is receiving dialysis, chemotherapy, or other specialized treatment? Download the document, Getting Medical Care and Prescription Drugs in a Disaster or Emergency Area, written by Medicare for recipients and their caregivers.

Organize medical records so that they are easily accessible. Your family member’s medical records should include his or her medical history, medications, and contact information for all physicians and family members involved in the person’s care. If these are paper documents, keep them in a safe but accessible place where they will be impervious to damage. You may also want to consider creating an online personal health record – a practice that has improved considerably regarding its usability and confidentiality. For more information about online personal health records, click here.

Enroll your loved one in a safety program. If you are caring for someone with dementia or if you simply fear that you may become separated from your loved one during a disaster, explore some of the safety programs available, such as MedicAlert® + Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return® and Comfort Zone®.

Assemble an emergency kit. Choose a watertight container and keep it in an easily accessible area. The Alzheimer’s Association recommends including items such as:

  • Extra clothing (several sets of essentials are ideal)
  • Extra medications
  • Non-perishable foods and snacks
  • Legal papers
  • A list of physicians, diagnoses, and medications
  • Insurance cards
  • Identification cards (you can place a reminder note on the container’s cover to include these)
  • Information for any safety programs your family member is enrolled in
  • A recent photograph of your loved one
  • Incontinence pads or other caregiving items, as needed
  • A cell phone and charger (you can place a reminder note on the container’s cover to include these)
  • Bottled water
  • A flashlight and extra batteries

If your loved one lives in a facility, learn about its disaster/evacuation plans. Even if your family member no longer lives at home, it’s important for you to know the disaster plan in place. Make sure that the facility has a clear plan that includes notifying family members of their loved one’s status and location.

What else would you add to this list? If you already have your disaster plan in place, what advice do you have for others who are tackling this task? Your ideas can help the caregiver community keep their family members safe, even during emergencies and natural disasters.

Source: Alzheimer’s Association (2012). In a disaster.

Leave a comment