One more responsibility for adult children?


With climate change, extreme weather, and increasing disasters, most of us realize that we have to be prepared for disasters in one way or another. But are our aging parents ready for a disaster or even a prolonged power outage? We recently got a taste of what is needed with the rapid and extensive flooding in our area. It can happen anywhere.

There were warnings from climatologists of an upcoming major storm. It has been suggested that this could lead to power outages. Most of the locals in our area for the elderly understood this to mean they had to stay home due to heavy rains. This has happened in various parts of the country with a similar result. People make sure they have flashlights, food on hand, and they charge their cell phones ahead of time. But the hardships for aging parents will likely exceed what a younger, more employable person might do in extreme weather conditions. Maybe your aging loved ones haven’t checked out if they have new batteries or anything else lately. When the power goes out and stays off, the elderly who depend on it to run their medical devices and get deliveries are in trouble. Darkness also presents a greater risk of falling for them.

With us we have a generator for emergency power. But in the dark and downpour, my capable husband couldn’t start it. It took a quieter moment the next day, with a review of the directions, to get it going. He took some notes on the manual, and we’re ready for the future, but not everyone is so lucky. Imagine an elderly person trying to do this short term in the dark and perhaps with vision or balance issues. The family could help by testing any of your aging parents’ equipment the next time you see them to make sure everything is working.

Reflecting on the sudden and prolonged power outage we just experienced, I remembered what every family and every senior must do to help keep your aging parents as safe as possible. Here are some thoughts on the things you can do if you live far away from your aging loved ones.

  1. With your aging parents, go over the lists offered in each state to find out how to prepare for what could happen. Do they have what is called a “Go Bag” with essential items, including medicine, clothing, food and water to be recovered quickly when evacuation is ordered? If they don’t, you can help them identify what to put in that bag and make sure they get it and keep it in an appropriate place. It has to be accessible and they have to be able to wear it. Use more than one bag if weight is an issue. Imagine what they would do if they had to escape their place of residence in an hour or less.
  2. Anticipate problems created by a power failure. Do they have flashlights or lanterns, with fresh batteries? When was the last time someone checked these details? Is there another power source, such as a generator or wall battery? This can be critical if they can’t leave the house and the power goes out for days, as has happened in many disasters across the country over the past year. Your aging parents may not be clearly thinking about the worst case scenarios. Adult children or other family members can step in and make sure what they need is on hand just in case.
  3. Do they have important papers and permanent records in a safe place, safe from fires and floods? When a crisis occurs, no one is likely to think clearly. When we are in “fight or flight” mode, we only focus on what is immediate, not on what we might have predicted in a quieter time. Enjoy the quiet when no emergency is at hand, and be sure to ask elderly parents to look after these items, in case they might have to flee in a hurry. You, the family, can help organize, stock, and plan for what could save lives.
  4. If you live far away from aging parents and they are vulnerable, get the names of neighbors and friends nearby who you could call to help you if necessary in the event of a disaster. In our area, we organize groups of neighbors to look after each other, identifying with a short survey those who say they are likely to need help and those who could help others. Walkie-talkies will be used by the leader of each group to communicate, in case cell phones are not in use and emergency personnel cannot be reached.

No one likes to think that this could happen to us, but it only takes a nearby disaster to get your wake up call. All aging parents who may be frail, hard of hearing, or have dementia could be the next to face an urgent nature problem. Because we work with seniors and their families on AgingParents.com on a daily basis, we see the vulnerability of aging and the risk to our older clients and neighbors. What we have learned is that we can all do better to prepare for an emergency. We made adjustments. We have more supplies. We made sure everything for emergencies is in working order. Now we feel more secure and hope you and your loved ones will be too.

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