Hi all, Emily here, and with the holiday season in full swing, I want to touch on something we all think a lot about this time of year, our families. I’ve especially been thinking about my Mom, who lives back in New England (where I was raised). Mom is now at retirement age, but don’t tell her that! She started a new “retirement career” as an aesthetician this year, working with my younger sister in charming Newburyport, Mass.
Mom Black - downtown Newburyport.
That said, she lives by herself in an adorable 100 year old cottage on Plum Island, a barrier island off the coast of northern Massachusetts that is accessed from the mainland by a single road with a drawbridge. It’s glorious in the summer, but the winters are long and harsh with the ocean waves often coming over the dunes and threatening serious flooding, and snow piling up in huge drifts making driving and visibility treacherous even with the plows regularly digging out the single main road.
View of Mom’s neighbors snowed in up to their second floor.
There are a few extra things to remember when talking to seniors and the elderly about planning for emergencies. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but will cover some of the things that are particularly important for our older family members, while sheltering in place or during an evacuation.
- First off, create an emergency plan, both for sheltering in place, or in case of evacuation. Redfora’s emergency bags come with a printed guide, so you can sit and fill it out together. If they live alone, talk with their neighbors, give them your phone number and ask them to connect with your relative if an emergency happens so they have support - especially if their mobility is limited. If they need to evacuate, ask your loved one to consider carpooling with others so they can take turns driving and are not alone.
- Make a list of medications they use daily that they may not be able to prepack (many people do not have extra doses of prescriptions, for instance), so in the panic of the moment they don't forget these critical items. Keep a large gallon sized ziploc bag with their name and contact info on it in their emergency bag to throw all medication bottles into, or use an easily identified small makeup or toiletry bag. Another helpful tip on medication, if your parent or loved one takes several throughout the day, is to include in your list, which medications are taken in what doses at specific times throughout the day, so medical professionals can see at a glance what their normal routine is, as well as keeping your relative organized themselves, so doses aren’t missed or taken incorrectly.
- If they have a fireplace (or in my mother's case, a cast iron wood stove), that will work well for heat and light, but be sure it’s been regularly maintained by a professional, and is safe to use. Offer to help them bring firewood inside to a garage, covered patio, or indoor mudroom so it doesn't get wet. That said, be attentive and practice fire safety - keep a water or sand bucket near the hearth. For lighting, candles can pose a fire hazard especially if left to burn unattended. If lighting, rather than heat, is most important, skip the candles and opt for something like solar or battery powered lanterns and flashlights - we carry several types. Or perhaps a headlamp, which will also leave your loved one’s hands free to do tasks, or hold railings and mobility aids.
- Put ID tags with name, phone number, and address on their emergency bag (as many people's bags will look similar if put down in a crowded shelter), and on any mobility equipment like a wheelchair or cane. Our prepacked emergency bags come with ID tags for you to fill out, but if you’re building your own, be sure to add one!
- Add extra sanitation items to their emergency bag, such as adult incontinence garments, germ masks (even if a respirator isn't necessary), wet wipes, denture cleanser, and hand sanitizer to protect those with weaker immune systems. Our emergency bags also come with first aid supplies, but it is always smart to keep a second first aid kit in the car for emergencies on the road, or in a second location at home so if they are sheltering in place, there is easy access to regularly used items, like bandaids and antibacterial ointment, for instance.
- If you're in a very cold area, help them pack extra blankets, single-use heat packs, or heavy socks and gloves. In a hot climate, pack cooling head or neck wraps, and linen or light cotton garments, including long sleeves or sunscreen for UV protection. The body doesn't self regulate temperature as well when we age. A compact umbrella is always a good idea and provides protection from sun or precipitation.
- Consider any medications which require cooling/refrigeration. There are a TON of options out there for 12V or “Dometic” fridges, many are used by truckers or in alternative living situations like on boats or in RVs. However, they tend to be quite pricey and very bulky. If they ONLY need storage to keep medication cold, and are not trying to replace a home refrigerator, I recommend going with something like this one. It plugs into your car or a power bank, takes very little energy to run, and because it is small, it cools to temperature quickly. A portable option like this home has plenty of space for vials or other temperature-sensitive items, but is easy to move, unlike a large chest type Dometic. Also consider adding things like extra batteries for hearing aids, and a backup pair of glasses to their emergency bag.
- In cases where power is necessary in the short term, but evacuation is not - look into alternative energy sources, such as power banks which can come in a vast range of sizes. They range from solar cells small enough to fit in your hand for charging phones and small electronics, to units large enough to power a household’s worth of appliances. Gas generators are loud and can be dangerous (fumes, combustible fuel) and are difficult to start or move. The lithium battery solar power stations on our site are lightweight, and safer to operate.
This January morning was crystal clear, but bone chillingly cold on Plum Island.
- Be sure that their bag and pantry have senior friendly food - such as granola/protein bars and dried fruit with easy to open packaging rather than packing heavy canned goods that require a can opener and a heat source for cooking. If they do happen to have a way to heat water, the emergency food by Mountain House is guaranteed for 30 years (believe me, we’ve tried it). And any emergency bag from Redfora includes the Redfora Refresh, which sends an automatic reminder whenever any part of the kit needs replacing, and offers a one click way to do so.
- Make a plan for pets - including leaving toilets open for cats or larger dogs to drink from and either gravity feeders or a large bowl of kibble in case they must be left at home. Be sure to have your loved one lock up their house in the event of an evacuation, even if they leave pets behind. If they rely on a service animal, be sure to take their needs into account, including any outdoor protection they might need (a coat in winter or paw covers for standing on snow or superheated asphalt) and their food and water. Be sure they are wearing a collar with up to date contact info, if microchipped be sure the information on the chip is up to date. Think about putting your loved one’s name and contact info on their working dog vest/harness. It is also a smart idea to add their service animal certification papers in with their own important papers, should they need to prove the dog’s training.
Low visibility on a typical New England winter morning.
- Sheltering in place may be the best course of action unless they lose power, the home is damaged or flooding, or authorities say they should leave. Regardless, be sure they’ve reached out to their emergency contact person (make sure they have one that is local and one that is far away in case local connections are too jammed) - and let the contact know what their plan is. If they do need to leave to a shelter, remind them to tell workers of any special needs they have so volunteers can work to accommodate them as best they can.
- If they have an in home caregiver, involve the caregiver in this emergency planning. Make sure they know who to call, where your loved one wants to go in case of an emergency, and where supplies are kept in the home.
It is typical for seniors to have worsened symptoms or flare ups of chronic health ailments such as diabetes, arthritis pain, digestive issues, or blood pressure when under stress. It is also typical to see new or worsening mental ailments such as confusion, excessive anxiety, irritability, and sleep disturbances like extreme fatigue or insomnia. Having a plan in place, and practicing that plan with your senior will help if an emergency arises to keep them feeling calm, safe, and secure. And it surely gives me peace of mind going into the winter months, knowing that my Mom has all the information and supplies she’d need in case of an emergency.
Stay safe this holiday season, and happy trails from Redfora.