When you find yourself in a caregiving situation, you suddenly realize how much every mile of separation means. Whether you live on the other side of town or a hundred miles away, it can be hard to get up-to-date information about your loved one’s health and progress.
Although you may call them daily or visit on the weekends, you may still not have a clear sense if their mood is shifting, if daily tasks such as bathing and getting dressed are more of a challenge, or if their memory is failing. Additionally, disasters, man-made or natural, can happen at any time, anywhere, and older adults are among the most vulnerable during a crisis.
That’s why it’s important to create a personal support network made up of several friends, family members, in-home care providers, and neighbors who will check in on your loved one from time to time, especially in an emergency, to ensure their wellness and to give assistance if needed.
Here are five important items to discuss and implement with a personal support network.
1. Make arrangements, prior to an emergency, for your loved one’s support network to immediately check on them after a disaster and, if needed, offer assistance.
Schedule a casual meeting — such as a coffee date after church — among your loved one’s family, friends, care partners, and other support network members.
Encourage your loved one to explain their concerns about what would happen to them in an emergency: Maybe your dad doesn’t drive and is worried about his transportation options if there were an evacuation order. Or perhaps your mom isn’t sure what to do if her water, gas, or electricity were cut off and local officials weren’t able to reach her right away?
Work with your parents and their support network as a team to prepare. Ask someone to visit or call your loved one in the event of severe weather or other emergency to make sure they are OK. Agree on a plan for what they should do if they are unable to reach your loved one or find them needing help.
2. Exchange important keys.
It won’t help your loved one if the person who volunteered to immediately check on them after a disaster doesn’t have a way to get into their house. Make sure they have an extra set of car and house keys.
3. Show them where emergency supplies are kept.
Your loved one’s home should be equipped with an emergency medical kit and a disaster supplies kit. If it’s not, create one that contains a battery-operated radio, a flashlight, extra batteries, a signaling device (such as a loud whistle, horn, or bell), food that they can open and prepare easily, water (one gallon per person per day), extra blankets and a first aid kit. Make sure everyone in your loved one’s personal support network knows where the emergency supplies are kept.
4. Share copies of your loved one’s relevant emergency documents, evacuation plans, and emergency health information card.
Keep copies of vital family records and other important documents — such as birth and marriage certificates; social security cards; passports; wills; deeds; and financial, insurance, and immunizations records — in a safe location, such as a fire safe or safe deposit box. Make sure your loved one tells everyone in their personal support network where they put all their important papers.
5. Agree on and practice methods for contacting one another in an emergency.
Create a phone call chain in which your loved one makes an initial call to one person and they, in turn, call the next person and so on. Make sure everyone has the current home, work, and cell phone numbers of the people they’ll need to contact in an emergency. Post these emergency numbers near all your loved one’s phones, and make an extra copy for them to keep in their wallet. Make sure you have access to a phone that will work if the electricity goes out.
Every six months, review your loved one’s plans with their personal support network. Keep in mind, you should always notify one another when someone is going out of town and when they will return.
Remind your loved one that many people — not just seniors — have problems taking care of routine tasks during a disaster. They don’t need to worry about not appearing independent. Everyone needs help when disaster strikes, and that’s why they have a personal support network. Be encouraging, offer a positive attitude, and remind them of their strengths.
It’s much easier to remain calm when you know what to do, so it is important to acknowledge these potential hazards and exercise proper planning. If you and your loved ones want to be ready to face any challenge and know how to act in time of emergency, download our guide Getting Your Affairs in Order: A Guide to Advance Care Planning and Emergency Preparedness.