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Posted: June 21, 2007

Spousal Caregiving

Caregiving and Emergency Planning: Are You Prepared?

Bill Andrew

I live in Florida, where June 1 means the beginning of hurricane season, so I thought a column on emergency planning for caregivers would be appropriate. This column is not just about planning for a hurricane but for any disaster, natural or man-made. Recent news reports have told about floods, tornadoes, fires, earthquakes, snow/ice storms, etc. across the country, and hurricanes themselves may strike any place along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

So I ask you: as a spousal caregiver, are you prepared?

From a Florida perspective, you may remember the three hurricanes that criss-crossed Polk County in central Florida in August and September of 2004 named Charley, Frances, and Jeanne. In addition, Ivan looped around after it made landfall north of us and we got some of the residual effects. And then Hurricane Katrina hit the northern Gulf coast in late August 2005. My son and his family in Mississippi were caught up in that and lost everything.

Katrina's damage to lives and property is without equal in American history. Never has a natural disaster in the United States had such effect on so many people. One of the most heartbreaking aspects of Katrina was the number of lives that were lost due to the inability of many people to get disabled and infirm loved ones out of their homes. Essentially, many of these people were trapped and no one had a plan in place to assure their safety or help them to evacuate.

If you were a spousal caregiver then, as I was, I hope you were prepared and survived without incident. If you are a spousal caregiver now, as I still am, I hope that you are prepared for this year's hurricane season and for any other disaster that may come your way. No matter where you live, a caregiver must have a plan of action. Here in Florida, the cause can be a hurricane, a tornado, a fire; elsewhere, it can be a flood, earthquake, tsunami, snow or ice storm. Whatever the disaster, you must have a plan of action for moving their loved one to safety.

In the current issue of Strength for Caring, a newsletter and website produced by Johnson & Johnson Consumer Products Company, Charles B. Inlander, president of People's Medical Society, wrote an article on emergency planning for caregivers from which this column is derived. I want to share his thoughts with you as we enter this 2007 Atlantic hurricane season.

Here are Inlander's suggestions that the savvy spousal caregiver can follow when devising an action plan:

Be prepared

The Boy Scouts had it right when they made "be prepared" their first maxim. You can be prepared by writing an action plan of what you would do in case of a disaster such as I describe. Make note of all options available to you and your loved one, including getting out of the house and to a safe place quickly. Post a list of telephone numbers and contacts in case you are trapped. It is prudent to write down your own name, address, and phone number as well as directions to your loved one's house, just in case. Many people get rattled and tend to forget this simple information when speaking with emergency responders or family members over the phone.

Get a cell phone

If you do not have a cell phone, get one in case the traditional land phone lines go down. Keep a fully charged cell phone in your house or on your person. Any cell phone plan works and can access 911 as needed. Make sure you can maintain the charge on your cell phone.

Modify your living space if needed

One of the lessons of Hurricane Katrina was that many disabled people could not get out of their upstairs bedrooms, and those caring for them could not move them. You may want to consider modifying your home by converting a main floor area as the sleeping space for the disabled person, at least in case of a portending disaster. Many lives may have been saved if these folks were able to get out before the flood.

Act early

When in doubt, don't wait. Get out or get help at the first warning. Don't assume the anticipated storm will miss you or that you can weather a predicted storm or natural disaster. My son in Mississippi waited until the last minute to evacuate, but others weren't so lucky. Call a family member or friend to help evacuate you and your loved one before the disaster strikes. If no one is available, call the police, fire, and other local government agencies for assistance. Even if the disaster bypasses you and your loved one, it is better to be safe than sorry. Tragically, many people who died during Katrina assumed they could weather the storm as they had many times in the past.

Have the right equipment

It is wise to have a generator available in case the electric power fails, and make sure you have enough gasoline to operate it for an extended period of time. This is especially important if your loved one depends on an oxygen machine that requires power. Make sure you have several large tanks of portable oxygen as backup. Flashlights, portable toilets, bottled water, extra blankets, food and water, changes of clothing, and anything else that you might need should also be available. Make sure you have adequate medications for your loved one during any major outage.

Stay in touch

Let any local agency that provides services for your loved one know you are taking care of someone who should be checked on in case of disaster. This includes police and fire departments, the local electric and telephone companies, and other local agencies. This may speed restoration of services in your area. Make sure your family and friends know where you are and how to reach them at all times, especially if the loved one in your house is elderly or disabled.

Taking these and related action steps can help assure that you and your loved one have the best chances of surviving a disaster. If you have any further suggestions, we would like to hear from you. Drop me a line at ASKBill@caregivershome.com  and I will share them in a future column. Please provide your full name and address. In the column, I will only use your first name and the first initial of your last name as well as your city and state. Thank you.

WORDS TO CARE BY . .

". . . I have loved you with an everlasting love . . ."

Jeremiah 31: 3


Bill Andrew identifies himself as a former “nutritionally-empowered Alzheimer’s caregiver” who attributes the slow-down in progression of Alzheimer’s disease in his wife, Carol – and the growth of his own personal emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual capability and strength to provide quality 24/7 care for her in their own home – to the targeted nutritional supplements they both took on a daily basis. Carol went to her Heavenly reward on June 9, 2008 – Bill continues on to advocate for family caregivers. Contact Bill with your caregiving questions and comments via email at ASKBill@caregivershome.com.

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Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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