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Posted: December 29, 2004

Professional Caregiving

Are You Prepared for Bio-Terrorism and Other Emergencies?

Picture this: A surprised duck is attached to a wall, and the cartoon character says to his friend, ?OK, I have the duck taped, now what??

This great cartoon was published when we all had been encouraged to buy plastic sheeting and duct tape to ensure our protection if the threat of bio-terrorism was realized. Ok, so it?s a bit old, but the threat is very ?now.? In fact, the risk is still out there, and we have not gotten much more advice on keeping radioactive or airborne hazardous chemicals out of our lungs or our heating and air circulation systems.

None of us wants to consider the reality of attacks of this sort, but to best prepare in the event of an attack, it is wise to review how well prepared you are for this. In Texas, the Consortium of Geriatric Education Centers examined curricula for the training of healthcare professionals working with the elderly. The need was determined to be high as a result of a needs assessment made throughout Texas which showed that less than 50% of the providers of healthcare had any formal training in bio-terrorism and only 10% had any training that was geriatric-specific at all.

Another interesting finding in the assessment was who the older adult felt would be best prepared to provide relevant educational information and care in the event of an attack. Can you guess? The healthcare provider. Uh, oh. If your state is anything like Texas, you would be wise to consider bringing together the healthcare providers in your community, the Red Cross or another nationally recognized preparation, prevention and care training entity on the topic of bio-terrorism and related emergencies.

Are there individuals in your community who are recognized experts in this field? The Texas Consortium of Geriatric Education Centers is pulling together the most critical informational components for training seminars that take aging issues into consideration for realistic interventions and precautions for attacks of this nature.

Stanford Geriatric Education Center, which includes care for elders of diverse ethnic backgrounds as a focus of their work, has created a curriculum based on a mnemonic for ETHNIC ELDERS which spells out major issues to be considered in an emergency preparedness course for their elderly, sensory loss patients and those who care for them:

Evaluate the risk

Translate technical information to simple, indigenous terms

Help the elder communicate special needs

Negotiate/navigate pathways to a trust relationship

Intervene with culturally appropriate plans

Collaborate with family, community and ethnic media

Explain how to access local/neighborhood resources

Label survival kits (English and other languages)

Differentiate stress-induced anxiety and language difficulties

Educate elder, family and community leaders

Respect traditional healing practices and rituals

Support with non-verbal behaviors.

A few interesting outcomes of their course revealed that healthcare workers caring for diabetic, hearing impaired ethnic elders felt their ability to prepare for emergencies was more than could be overcome due to their language, sensory and medical needs. ?Just one layer too much? was the consensus. Their point of agreement that we could benefit from is that the distribution of a flyer containing emergency advice to in this case, hard-of hearing seniors, is necessitated by their hearing loss and language barriers.

Some of the recommended articles to be collected into an emergency kit were:

  • Extra hearing aid

  • Assistive listening device

  • Batteries

  • Extra glasses

  • Medications for two weeks

  • Syringes and needles(remember this advice was for diabetics)

  • Glucometer and supplies

  • Names and contact info of doctors

  • Paper and pens

  • Written information about how they communicate

Looking at your particular population and developing a mini-course with a handout could be developed at your settings, thus arming your clients with life-saving information. Additional information about preparing for an emergency that can be included in educational materials in your settings can be found with the Red Cross.

Every licensed facility or building already has (or should have) emergency evacuation plans. These should be reviewed with your residents and staff to ensure that the maximum readiness of your facility to care for your folks in the event of a biological or other hazardous condition. The best time for any emergency preparation obviously is before the emergency, and with the new year coming up quickly, make it a priority to get important emergency preparedness information into your clients? hands for 2005. Like life insurance, you pray you don?t need it but you thank goodness you have it, just in case.


Sylvia Nissenboim is a licensed clinical social worker and who has been working in the field of adult day services in the St. Louis area. She is the director of four adult care and enrichment centers for the American Red Cross and also operates a personal and professional coaching firm, LifeWork Transitions, specializing in caregiving concerns, adult day care management and other aging services, such as virtual coaching and family care giving support groups. She co-authored The Positive Interactions Program, is a national speaker, and has served as president of the Missouri Adult Day Care Association and as a member of the Missouri Governor's Advisory Council on Aging..

© 2004 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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