Help Aging Parents: Storms and Pending Disasters

NYC 57th & 6th: Storm Victim of Sandy–Crane No Longer Atop Bldg.

The dire Sandy hurricane/tropical storm warnings in the NY Metropolitan area couldn’t be missed. Media people and Mayor Bloomberg et al.–as well as New Jersey’s media people and Governor Chris Christi et al.–must be sleep deprived as I write this. We’ve seen and/or heard from them continually with warnings, information, and updates on most channels since Sunday night.

We worry about older and old people, especially aging parents. Cell phones are often the only way to contact them. We hope–as we phone to check on them–that they are keeping their cell phones charged. (Soon I’ll compile a list of suggestions for aging parents and older people experiencing a storm or other emergency alert.) Older people aren’t always as compulsive about charging their phones as younger people– as many of us know.

Are the older people we know in a safe place? Will they be warm if the electricity goes? Can they prepare food on a gas stove or cooktop? Do they have fresh–as well as nonperishable food? And do they have adequate water to drink–as well as to flush toilets–should power go out in their apartment building?

We worry–and many older people worry–about pets. Animal (and fish) lovers called NY 1 (NYC’s all-news cable station) to ask about the NY aquarium at Coney Island (it was under water and assessment of the damage has not been determined as of this writing), as well as the Central Park and Bronx zoos

A fallen branch at Central Park Zoo today tempts llama but is quickly taken away

(reportedly all is well at the zoos).

Being an animal lover, I was heartened when the pet-friendly shelters (owners and pets welcome) were announced. Sometimes–perhaps more than “sometimes”–pets are an old person’s closest friend. Understandably older people can be reluctant to leave their home/apartment because of their pets. The difficulty of moving temporarily or the worry that their homes could be looted if no one is home compounds their concerns.

I made my calls to my octogenarian friends in harm’s way. All were safe and comfortable–with one exception: a 90-year-old widower. He was safe in his home where he’s alone at night but has help during the day. But he was not comfortable.

It seems the spouse of a former caregiver for his wife, living in an evacuation area, had just phoned, wanting to stay at his home–with a friend–until it was safe to return home. My 90-year-old friend was stressed. A kind man, he told the spouse it would be difficult to house 2 additional people, but to phone back if there wasn’t another place to stay. My phone call allowed him to express his anxiety and gain support and a strategy should the spouse phone again.

People can do strange things in emergencies. Asking a 90-year-old to take in two people, one of whom he doesn’t know–for a day or possibly more in an emergency situation, seems like an unthinking (or idiotic) request, doesn’t it?

Affirmation that he needn’t take on a responsibility–at 90–that was causing him anxiety, and the suggestion that he watch the caller ID# when his phone rings and only answer calls from his far-away-living children, was a start. The fact that he can’t see caller ID’s, prompted my suggestion of placing a magnifying glass near the phone. The big “THANK YOU SO MUCH” confirmed that his mind was more at ease.

A simple phone call to elderly people in impending storm or emergency situations can turn out to be more than just a call to say “I care.” It’s another way we can contribute to helping parents (and older people we care about) age well.

2 thoughts on “Help Aging Parents: Storms and Pending Disasters

  1. Excellent suggestions! My husband (83) and I (nearing 76) are “older”, but we’re reasonably able-bodied and have all our faculties. We live in the Northwest and have tried to plan and prepare ourselves and our two much-loved cats for severe winter weather and earthquakes, the two greatest threats in our area. Yet, fleeing a flooded or destroyed home in the pitch dark would be a huge disruption, and I can’t imagine leaving our cats behind. I’m so glad you mentioned that pets are part of the family to many older people. Ours most certainly are!

    Several years ago our power was out for 9 days during 20-30 degree weather, and it seemed like forever even though we had (and have) a generator. We were able to stay relatively warm, make coffee and heat canned food, but there was no hot water for bathing or washing–and it was still very cold. I hope power can be restored to those affected by Hurricane Sandy quickly. Power is SO important, especially to older people!

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