Guest post by Emily Long
Aging in place—in which seniors are able to live independently at home instead of entering the healthcare system—is a fast-growing trend in 2017. The percentage of older adults in nursing homes or group quarters has declined in recent years, and with advances in home amenities for seniors as well as assistance from nearby relatives, it’s becoming easier for our family members to stay home longer.
As a result, it’s that much more important that we empower our parents for emergency situations, especially if they are living alone or far from any immediate family. Here are a few prevention and response tips to keep seniors safe and healthy in the event of a disaster.
Develop a detailed plan.
The very first step in preparedness is planning. Work with your parents and their care providers to create an action plan for every emergency scenario you might encounter.
- Keep information handy, including contact lists, medical information, and instructions for medications and care protocols. Make emergency contact cards to distribute to anyone involved in your parents’ emergency plan—and be sure to keep personal identifying information secure.
Go supply shopping.
- Build an emergency kit. Have on hand all the supplies your parents might need to stay healthy while hunkered down, from bottled water and extra clothing to first aid supplies and key medications. Make sure your parents know where these items are located and how to use them.
- Stock up on nonperishable goods. There are many situations in which emergency food storage is not only useful—it’s life-saving. In the case of severe weather, a terrorist attack, or other disaster, you can’t rely on grocery stores or meal delivery. Help your parents stock their pantries with supplies that will provide high-quality nutrients for days, weeks, or even months if necessary.
- Cover specific medical needs. For example, make an evacuation plan for parents who need wheelchairs, canes, or walkers, and keep extra batteries accessible for hearing aids and alert devices. Check in periodically to ensure your parents are refilling their prescriptions on schedule, and talk to their doctors about options for stocking life-saving medications—including insulin and —in case pharmacies aren’t accessible for any reason.
Build a network.
- Enlist neighbors and friends who know your parents well and who are willing and able to help in case of an emergency. Share key information about contacts or medical history, as well as any keys or access codes, and set up a detailed action plan for each possible emergency scenario. This is especially important if you do not live close enough to assist.
- Invest in a medical alert device. There are few things better for peace of mind than a direct connection between your parents and emergency responders. Traditional models come with a base station and wearable pendant that allow two-way communication and 24/7 monitoring, and some even have fall detectors and other smart features. There are dozens of options available to meet different needs and price points. Do your research to make sure you pick a system that your parents can confidently use with any existing health condition.
- Connect via smart wearables. The world of wearables isn’t just for fitness buffs counting their steps. You can find everything from GPS trackers that alert you when your parent leaves a predetermined geographic radius to smart insoles that provide haptic feedback for balance as well as location tracking. These features may be included in some medical alert systems.
Make the home senior-friendly.
- Follow accessibility standards. There are a variety of low-tech home improvements that make day-to-day tasks easier for elderly parents, from handrails and grab bars to better light fixtures with brighter bulbs and accessible switches to ramps and non-slip flooring. Not only will these small steps help prevent falls, they’ll also make it easier to evacuate the home in case of an emergency.
- Keep up with regular home maintenance. Tasks includes evaluating structural integrity, maintaining cleanliness, and ensuring appliances and systems are in good working order—both indoors and out. Check fire extinguishers and carbon monoxide detectors regularly. This is important for your parents’ health and safety as well as a preventive step in case of natural disasters or other emergencies that cause damage to homes. You can do this yourself or hire a contractor or professional you trust.
- Get smart. Smart home devices can vastly improve the potential for independent living. For example, smart motion sensor lights brighten hallways and entryways for both late-night bathroom trips and potential emergency evacuations. Indoor security cameras with two-way communication allow you to monitor your parents’ well-being right from your smartphone and to call for help while staying in touch in case of a medical or other emergency. Cameras also protect against theft, abuse, and other crimes.
If you take even a few of these steps, you empower your parents to safely maintain their independence, avoid preventable emergencies, and improve preparedness to respond in unexpected situations.
Emily Long is a safety expert from SafeWise. She is passionate about promoting safe and healthy habits for day-to-day living. When she isn’t writing about safety and well-being, she can be found teaching yoga, road tripping, or hiking in the mountains.