If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s to be prepared for disasters. That’s especially true for senior adults.

“Older adults bear a disproportionate rate of negative outcomes following a disaster, including deaths,” said Wanda Spurlock, professor at Southern University’s College of Nursing and Allied Health during a recent Facebook Live conference.

The reasons are many, Spurlock said.

Seniors tend to have more chronic medical conditions, take more medications and are more likely to have mobility problems that require devices like walkers, canes and wheelchairs. Failing eyesight and hearing, cognitive impairment and social isolation, exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, are other factors that weigh against the elderly when they need to react to disasters, she said.

Everyone’s emergency preparation should include a plan, a disaster kit and ways to communicate and stay informed, but that's especially true for older family members, Spurlock said.

Emergency plans typically include basics like knowing how to receive alerts and warnings, options on where to shelter and evacuation routes.

For the elderly or others with major health problems, Spurlock said that plan should also take into consideration:

  • What home care services are available, and what are their plans to assist during a disaster?
  • Keeping assistance devices in a designated area so that can be communicated to anyone who comes to help. If these devices require power, have a backup plan — batteries or, if they’re sheltering in place, a generator. In advance, alert the power company that residents use life-sustaining equipment, information that utilities may use to prioritize where to restore electricity.
  • If individuals have ongoing medical treatment such as dialysis or chemotherapy, find out in advance what plans are in place at their treatment centers.
  • Seniors who have conditions that put them at risk if they run out of their medicine should get medical alert bracelets.

Emergency kits should be kept where they can be quickly accessed and transported if necessary. 

Basics in an emergency kit should include water (one gallon per person per day for at least three days), a three-day supply of nonperishable food, battery-powered radio and extra batteries, first-aid kit, a whistle to signal for help and important documents, including a driver's license or identification card. Those with health vulnerabilities should have three to five days of their medications.

For coronavirus protection, include in your kit such things as masks, hand sanitzer or wipes and soap.

For a more complete list, go to suagcenter.com/assets/suag/Emergency/Hurricane-Prepardness_Fact-Sheet-2edited.pdf.

Spurlock emphasized the need for older people to have a support network. If family is not in close, regular contact, elders should look to neighbors or church friends to build a support system. Even having people who don’t live nearby is better than nothing, she said.

“Sometimes, just due to the disaster itself and the immediate area that might be impacted, persons who live outside the area may be able to make phone calls and check on the individual,” Spurlock said.

She encourages those with medical needs to inform first responders in advance of a disaster so they’ll be prepared if assistance is needed.

“This is especially true in rural areas … where resources might be more scarce,” Spurlock said.

Spurlock also suggested that older adults give a family member access to their electronic medical records in case of an emergency.

“We know, of course, that disasters can happen at any time,” she said. “However, there are some things we can do in advance to be able to prepare for the unexpected. If we make the necessary preparedness for emergencies today, hopefully, we will have better outcomes when we are actually faced with a disaster.”

Stay informed

The LA Get A Game Plan app is the official emergency preparedness mobile app provided by the Louisiana Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. It is available in Apple App Store and on Google Play.

You also can follow GOHSEP on Twitter at twitter.com/GOHSEP or Facebook at facebook.com/gohsep.

Email George Morris at gmorris@theadvocate.com.