Extreme Caregiving: Keeping the Elderly Safe When the Weather Goes WildWith each passing year, weather conditions seem to be hotter, colder, or more violent than in the past. Preparing your elderly loved ones is essential for their safety and enlisting the help of their personal care assistant makes the job easier.

From record setting extreme temperatures to violent storms hitting areas that normally do not experience such conditions, like the unprecedented ice storms in the south and Superstorm Sandy in the northeast, the weather seems to becoming wilder with each passing year. During severe weather outbreaks, your elderly or disabled loved ones need special preparation prior to the event and extra attention during and after the storm, heat wave, or cold snap. Since you are likely preparing your own home and family, along with that of your loved one, it is likely to be a hectic time when it is easy to overlook some essential details. By enlisting the assistance of your Minnesota home health Personal Care Assistant (PCA), the tasks involved in preparing and caring for all members of your family will be much easier and the risk of you inadvertently overlook aspects of your preparations will be minimized.

Always Be Prepared: Pack a Go Bag

No matter how calm and collected you are, the news of severe weather heading your way can elicit a sense of panic. Since it is more difficult to stay organized and on task when you are anxious, packing things you need for either sheltering in place or evacuating your home has the potential to be a challenge. By packing a go bag during calm times, you’ll have one less thing to do when authorities warn that a severe weather event is likely to occur.   Here are some pointers for making a go bag for your elderly or disabled loved one.

  • Select a lightweight waterproof or water-resistant bag: While your first insight is to choose a piece of luggage, it is likely to be unwieldy for you or your loved one to manage when you need to move quickly. A better choice is a lightweight, but sturdy, backpack or duffel bag so that it is easy to carry. If your loved one has heavy medical equipment, consider a backpack that has wheels. Make sure to label the bag with your loved one’s name, address, and phone number, as well as an emergency contact number.   
  • Pack Enough Items to Last a Week: As people learned during Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy, help does not always arrive immediately after a severe storm. Your go bag should have enough water (one gallon per person per day), medications, non-perishable food items, and medical supplies to last a week.
  • Prepare for Life without Electricity:During extreme weather event, chances are you’ll spend some time without power, so you’ll need to include the following items:
    •  At least one flashlight, with spare batteries and bulbs
    • A hand cranked or battery operated radio
    • At least one “instant cold pack” to keep refrigerated medications from spoiling and to provide some relief if it hot
    • A lighter or waterproof matches
  • Prepare to Make Connections: While you or your family member will not keep your cell phone packed, it is a good idea to include spare batteries and chargers for the mobile device. Remember, even if there is no electricity, you can still charge the cell phone in a car if you have the correct charger. Additionally, write all phone numbers, addresses, and other contact information of family members on an index card and laminate it so it is not easily damaged. You’ll want to do the same for your loved ones medical providers, including the contact information for your PCA’s home health agency.
  • Ensure to Include Other Essential Items: Some of the other important to pack in the go bag include:
    • A fully-stocked first aid kit with instructions
    • Important documents and identification including birth certificates, Social Security cards, insurance documents, and other essential, but not easily replicable,  papers.
    • A blanket
    • Maps of the local area, since familiar landmarks may be severely damaged in a dangerous storm, such as a tornado or hurricane.
    • A whistle to notify alert first responders if your loved one becomes trapped or injured
    • Books or cards to provide some form of entertainment

Once you have stocked the go bag, remember to check it every few months to ensure none of the batteries have gone bad or to verify the expiration date on medications or foods items has not passed. This preparation will reduce the stress you and your family members face when severe weather conditions are imminent.

Caring for Your Elderly Loved One in a Heat Wave

As we get older, our bodies are not as efficient in regulating temperature as they are when we are younger. Compounding challenges for caregivers of elderly and disabled during heat waves is that some medications increase heat sensitivity, such as those used  for the treatment of heart conditions, psoriasis, allergies and Parkinson’s Disease. Additionally, some medical conditions, such as Multiple Sclerosis, make people more susceptible to heat stress.

Ways to Avoid Heat Stress in the Elderly

Some of the precautions you can take to reduce the risk of hyperthermia for your elderly loved one include:

  • Encourage the individual to increase their intake of cold beverages, preferably water, but to avoid drinks containing caffeine or alcohol.
  • If their home does not have air conditioning, encourage them to go to a cooling center or stay with someone who has an air conditioned home.
  • Ensure they wear lightweight clothing

Caring for the Elderly during Extreme Cold

Since older adults tend to lose body fat as they age, they are more prone to hypothermia. In addition, people who have vascular disease, chronic illnesses, and hypothyroidism. During cold snaps, you need to check on your elderly or infirmed at least twice a day or arrange to have their PCA see them. Additionally, make alternative housing plans in the event they lose heat or power.

With careful planning and the assistance of a PCA, you can ensure the well-being of your loved one regardless of the weather.