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Posted: October 20, 2005

Spousal Caregiving

Are You Prepared for Disaster?

Bill Andrew

What if disaster strikes where you and your loved one reside? Are you prepared? What would you do if a hurricane, an earthquake, a tornado, a flood, a major snow or ice storm -- what if any of these or other natural disasters struck your area of the country? What would you do if your home or the nursing facility caught fire?

In today's world, we are also worried about terrorists striking where we least expect it. These events should be a cause for worry for you as the caregiver for your spouse, your loved one. Are you prepared?

I live in Florida and we personally experienced three hurricanes in our area during 2004. My column Caregiving in Hurricane Alley, What a Year! described my personal experiences as a spousal caregiver during this period. Perhaps some of you have had similar experiences as you provide care for your spouse, some in your home and some at a nursing facility. What did you do? Were you prepared?

The October 2005 issue of the AARP Bulletin featured an article titled "What If? Seven Ways to Disaster-Proof Your Life" by Joseph Hearn, co-author of "If Something Happens to Me" (Provisio Publishing, 2004). I thought that what the author said definitely applied to spousal caregivers, and I wanted to share his thoughts with you -- especially within the context of recent natural disasters in our country and throughout the world. Think of Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita, the floods in the Northeast, the California earthquake, the tsunami in Southeast Asia, and other related natural events.

Have you ever wondered what you would do if such an event impacted you and your spouse? Do you know what you would grab if you had very little time to get out of your house -- or get your spouse out of the nursing facility? You really need to have plans in place, along with the items you would take, in order to respond in an expeditious manner for your benefit and the benefit of your spouse. This planning will determine how quickly you will be able to recover from the disaster. Hearn suggests seven ways to prepare for the unexpected:

1. Prepare a "grab-and-go" case. Your important legal, financial, and insurance paperwork should be organized in a file that you can grab if you have to flee your house or city. Include birth certificates, estate planning documents, financial and bank statements, insurance policies, Social Security cards, list of prescriptions, copy of your driver's license, a contact list, emergency cash, and similar important documents.

2. Make a contact list. Should a disaster occur, you will want to let your family, relatives, and friends know that you are safe -- or to ask for help. The contact list should include names, addresses, telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, and related information. You may also want to include contact information for your physicians, attorneys, accountants, insurance agent, banker, and others who are trained to help you to recover from the incident.

3. Prepare a household inventory. Are you able to remember everything in your house should you need to file an insurance claim? I know that I would not. Therefore, prepare a household inventory to help avoid this problem. My son and his family were severely impacted by Hurricane Katrina. He took digital pictures of everything in and around their home before they evacuated. Upon returning to the house, which had seven feet of water inside at one point during the hurricane, he once again took digital pictures of everything. These were stored on a compact disc, as well as a "memory stick", for documentation of the "before and after" for insurance claim purposes.

4. Meet with your advisers. Take the time beforehand to meet with each of your advisers and make sure that you are covered for various disaster-related events. Do you need, or have, flood insurance? Do you have a medical power of attorney for your spouse. Do you have adequate prescriptions to meet your needs during a disaster? Getting everything in place before such an event will make it that much easier to recover from the event.

5. Update your plans. As we all know, change is the only constant in life. To paraphrase Forrest Gump, "life happens." Make sure to conduct a periodic review of your affairs and plans so that everything that has happened since the last update is included in the current update.

6. Have a backup. What would you do if you were not able to escape with your important paperwork -- are you prepared? For example, your house may catch on fire while you are away. Perhaps you should have "backup" copies stored in a safe location -- with family, relatives, friends -- just in case. While a safe-deposit box is generally considered good backup, it may not be available to you when you need it. Also, consider that often safe-deposit boxes may be temporarily sealed upon death of one of the box owners.

7. Evaluate storage solutions carefully. Keeping your important information secure should be your primary concern. If your computer is your main storage facility, make sure that you "off-load" that information onto a portable CD, an external hard drive, or a USB flash drive. Also make sure that your firewalls and anti-virus protection is current. While a fire-proof safe may provide added protection in your home, a severe fire may incinerate the papers inside -- this apparently happened to the safe-deposit boxes at the World Trade Center during the 09/11 disaster. Some of the boxes survived but the contents did not.

Hearn provides great advice to all of us. While no one can prevent the unexpected from happening, putting your life back together after a disaster is much easier if you have all of the pieces available. Are you prepared?

As I write this, I am tracking "Hurricane Wilma" which may make landfall in South Florida over the weekend. I am prepared -- are you?


"…for you know not what disaster awaits him."

(Sirach 9:11)

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

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