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As a caregiver, every day may seem filled with disasters, both small and large. Caregivers constantly are dodging landmines, whether it’s working with a difficult patient, controlling pain, managing new symptoms or handling finances. That’s one reason why I referenced the metaphor in my new collection of caregiving essays, “The Reluctant Caregiver: Missives from the Caregiving Minefields.”
Back-to-back major hurricanes in the U.S. revealed another area where caregivers must be prepared: natural disasters. Most of you probably saw the heartbreaking photo of nursing home residents sitting in floodwaters in Texas during Hurricane Harvey. Fortunately, they were all saved, and staff risked their lives to stay with them all night long.
Still, I couldn’t help but wonder what, if any, were the evacuation plans for the nursing home? From what I read, it was located near a bayou, so the flood risk was real.
As people prepared for Hurricane Irma this weekend, I heard multiple reports about care facilities, including those for Alzheimer’s care, making the decision not to evacuate. It may seem like a no-brainer but there were complications. Gov. Scott of Florida implored for more nurses to step forward to volunteer in special needs shelters. At the time, they were understaffed, making some care facility managers leery of evacuating and not having a safe space for those with complex care needs.
Dementia caregivers know how any disruption to the normal routine, along with a chaotic atmosphere, can exacerbate symptoms. Can you imagine trying to deal with wandering patients in the chaos of a shelter? I’m not trying to judge those who made the decision to stay, but I do think it is a good reminder for anyone who is caring for a loved one right now to make an emergency plan.
If a natural disaster strikes your area, are you prepared to evacuate with your loved one? Do you know where you will go? How will your loved one’s medical needs be met? Do you have friends or other family members that would be willing to take you in temporarily? If you make the decision to stay behind, do you have a safe, accessible place in your home that will offer protection?
My parents never had to evacuate, but a wildfire did get pretty close to their neighborhood at one point, and I remember my parents being uneasy about the thought of evacuating. Fortunately, they were both in good health at the time and the fire was brought under control. I can’t imagine trying to keep track of my father at a shelter once he developed dementia, because he wandered. When my mother was recovering from colon cancer surgery, trying to change a colostomy bag in the very public realm of a busy shelter would have been a challenge.
While the images that have come out of Texas and Florida over the last couple of weeks have been heartbreaking, it is a good time for the rest of us to make sure we are prepared when Mother Nature’s fury comes our way. Sometimes, the worst moments can bring out the best in us, as when this man at Lowe’s gave up his generator to a woman who needed it for her father who requires an oxygen tank.
Consider giving to a hurricane relief fund established by Caring Across Generations. All proceeds will go directly to local organizations in Texas and Florida who assist caregivers.