Granted, Hurricane Sandy was a fluke and the odds of a Hurricane Camille or Katrina making landfall in our region is as likely as the Democrats and Republicans finding a workable budget. Still, even without the threat of a massive hurricane, the fact is, the 2014 hurricane season is less than two weeks away. It’s a great time to explore some of the special needs of the elderly in inclement weather. It could a blizzard, a hurricane, a heat wave or a tornado – Mother Nature cares little about the damage she inflicts from time to time. Sadly, it’s the elderly who are most vulnerable. To gain perspective, a few statistics are in order.
When Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Mississippi/Louisiana state line in the summer of 2005, life forever changed as people emerged from the devastation with the realization that they’d lost loved ones. In Louisiana, 71 percent of those who died during Katrina were age 60 or older. That’s an incredibly disturbing number, but it gets worse. Half of those were older than 75. Most drowned in their own homes, while others died from hypothermia or storm related injuries. That’s especially tragic because in this region of the country, the elderly are usually fiercely protected. It’s not that the elderly aren’t as protected in other regions, in the south, there’s a certain unspoken rule about the elderly, their vulnerabilities and the obligations of the younger generations. Even that wasn’t enough to save so many of these residents.
Hurricanes aren’t the only weather related threat to the elderly and if damaging weather strikes, having a game plan ahead of time can help keep your loved ones safer as some degree of normalcy is being restored. It’s important to understand the challenges before the protections can be put into place.
Often, the elderly are isolated, which leaves them even more vulnerable to natural disasters, says Elaine Wethington, a human development professor at Cornell University and whose studies in how climate change will affect the nation’s aging popularity. She explains, “Social isolation is at least partly driven by choice and preference. It is our habit of living.” Many opt to pull back with the goal of maintaining their independence. They see asking for help as a weakness and a signal for loved ones to step up and take control. As a result, in times of crisis, they may find themselves in need.
And another statistics drives home the seriousness of this situation. In 2010, around 13 percent of America’s population was made up of people over the age of 65. By 2030, it’s believed the population of those older than 65 will be at around 20 percent. In fact, there’s even a term for adults who choose to live alone: “singletons” and the number of singletons is growing every year.
Older people tend to resist evacuation in times of weather crises. Either they can’t drive themselves or they realize too late that public transportation has been shut down. This leaves them at the mercy of Mother Nature.
So what can you do to ensure your elderly loved one is safe, even in bad weather? Here are a few tips to keep in mind so that your loved one isn’t left vulnerable:
Be sure your loved one is well aware of deteriorating weather in the area.
Ensure there’s a first aid kit that’s stocked.
It’s crucial to gather all of your loved one’s Medicaid and Medicare paperwork, along with other insurance papers, including powers of attorney and legal documents.
Be sure your loved one is stocked up on her prescription medication. It’s best to ensure a two week supply.
The same holds true for water and food.
Locate flashlights and purchase batteries. Candles aren’t a good idea.
Prepare your loved one of what might can happen, including the loss of power so that she isn’t startled when the lights go out.
Follow the recommendations by officials in your area.
We may not experience a full-on hurricane, but there are plenty of weather related crises every year that keep us on our toes.