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Posted: July 11, 2005

Practical Caregiving

Disaster Planning is Essential for Caregivers

When disaster strikes, from a hurricane of other natural calamity, it wreaks havoc on anyone in its path. But what are the special circumstances when you're a caregiver, and you are not only responsible for your own safety and well-being, but that of your loved one?

That's the planning dilemma faced by Katie in Des Moines, who has lived through disaster herself and now worries as she is in the caregiving role. Let's review her situation and see how my advice can not only work for Katie, but for you too.

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Dear Jean:

I have been thrown into the caregiving role by my husband and his family. They didn't ask me. They just assumed I would do it. I am taking care of my father-in-law. He tries to help, and his attitude is great, but he can't do much for himself. I have adjusted and am glad I am doing this, but it is so difficult.

I have been hearing about hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and other natural disasters. I lived in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1993 when we had a horrible flood and we lost our water supply. What should I do to take care of my father-in-law if we have a disaster again?

Katie B., Des Moines, Iowa 

Dear Katie:

I live near Des Moines, and I remember that flood. It seemed like it would never end. It’s amazing how helpful people from other parts of the country were. They shipped in bottles of water from beer manufacturers, tanks of water with semi trucks, and there were many other things were done to help. Whenever there is a disaster, the very good in people comes out. That’s one thing you can count on.

Now, to your question: I will outline how you can prepare when there is not a disaster looming in the near future, but first let’s consider the three different aspects of a natural disaster. You may never experience all three.

Before a disaster strikes. Sometimes you have time to prepare before the disaster hits. When a hurricane strikes, people have advance warning. Sometimes, there are other catastrophes where you have advance warnings. If you do, you must do everything you can to protect yourself and your loved one, and make sure you have everything you both will need during the disaster period and after. But quite often you don’t have time to prepare for a disaster; you need to make decisions very fast.

During the disaster. During this time, you need to do everything you can to keep yourself and your loved one safe. Remain as calm as you can, and remember what you have already planned. 

After the disaster. First, immediately in the wake of the disaster event, make sure neither you nor your loved one are hurt. Do what you need to do on a priority basis. Notify the people you need to, whether it is family and friends or utility companies. Stay with your loved one and remain calm, even though you may not feel calm. It will help your loved one. It will also help you focus. 

Now, on to preparing for a disaster in advance of any immediate danger. The first thing you should do is find out what kinds of disasters hit the area you live in, and how the warning systems work. Living in Iowa, you would not have to consider a hurricane, but you would have to be alert to a tornado. People in California need to consider earthquakes. People in Florida and along the Gulf Coast need to guard against hurricanes. And so on. Everyone should become familiar with the history of disasters in their area and have a plan for what to do if one strikes. Plan ahead because every moment counts when disaster strikes. 

Is your loved one living at home with you, in their own home or in a care facility? Depending on the disaster, should they move in with you, or should you move in with them? 

In a notebook or on your computer, record the following information as it fits your situation. Put the information in a safe but handy place. If you use the computer, print it out and keep it in a safe place. Gather the supplies you decide you'll need. Go over the information and supplies periodically and update everything. 

Make a list of the supplies you would need, then round them up. These supplies would include such things as:

  • 3-7 day supply of water and food that won’t spoil
  • two-week supply of medicines
  • extra clothing
  • extra blankets and pillows
  • supply of special items needed, such as adult diapers
  • fully stocked first aid kit
  • flashlights (candles are dangerous)
  • battery-powered radio
  • extra batteries, including hearing aid batteries, if applicable
  • any extra special items that you or your loved one needs
  • extra car keys, eyeglasses, credit cards, etc.
  • personal items such as toothpaste, deodorant, soap, etc.
  • any supplies needed for your pets(!) 

Make a complete list of medicines you and your loved one require, telephone numbers of doctors and emergency contacts. 

Keep your important papers in a safe place where you can get to them quickly if you need to. It probably should be in a waterproof container. 

Check your home thoroughly for any potential problem, and contact your local fire department about fire hazards that you may not be aware of. Let your fire department and police know if you are caring for a person with special needs in an emergency, such as oxygen. Learn how to shut off the water, gas and electricity if needed. 

And finally, make sure you have adequate insurance coverage and smoke detectors. 

If you need to evacuate, find out where you would go and what route you would take. Mark a map to take with you. If you must evacuate, don't wait until it is too late -- put your loved one and pet in the car, fill up with gas, and calmly drive the route you already have charted. 

I hope you never need to use any of this information, but disasters happen. When I was taking care of my parents, we had a tornado go through town. It was really scary. Dad was always good about planning for disasters, so we knew where to go and what to do. Proper planning can, quite simply, be a life-saver.

© 2005 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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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Please send me your questions, comments and issues regarding the practical side of caregiving at ASKJEAN@caregivershome.com, and remember to take advantage of our professionals and experts in the Ask an Expert section of our website. You'll find it in the left column on our homepage.

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