Winter is finally here, and with it come days of arctic cold, ice, and snow. Winter can be a dangerous time for anyone, especially elderly folks who live alone. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends that you learn about the type of winter emergencies that are likely to affect your region, and, most importantly, create an emergency plan—The Plan—to help cope with emergencies.

I recently attended a keynote speech given by Lauren Bond of Care Is There Geriatric Care Management. While listening to her talk, I recalled an incident that happened in February 1993, and I remembered how dreadfully unprepared I had been when winter weather affected my elderly mother.

My Mother’s Situation

I was in Silverthorne, Colorado, and Mother was 76 years old and all alone in Raytown, Missouri. I’d recently helped her through two surgeries for macular degeneration; the surgeries had done little for her eyesight. As she had no other real health challenges, she was where she wanted to be: in the house that Dad had built for her right after World War II. She could feel her way around her home with confidence, but the macular degeneration had dramatically curbed her mobility. She could no longer drive, watch television, or read, and her only connection to the outside world was her radio, her telephone, and a good friend named Jean.

On February 25, 1993, in arctic-like temperatures, Kansas City got 10+ inches of snow on top of a foundation of ice. Phones and electricity were out all over the city and weather reports indicated that some of the suburbs would be inaccessible for days. Try as I might, Mother was unreachable.

The Emergency Plan

FEMA recommends that everyone have The Plan. The Plan includes a FEMA-type supply kit and a personal support network you can count on for assistance. The kit contains all the supplies you might need for a particular emergency. Having all these items in one physical space (box, cabinet, drawer) and making sure my mother or a person I’d designated, had immediate access to them seems obvious now that I’ve heard Loren’s presentation.

Supplies

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Your basic supply kit should contain:

  •    food for three days
  •    water: one gallon per person per day
  •    first aid supplies
  •    flashlights
  •    candles and matches
  •    a battery-operated radio

Other necessary items include:

  •    a can opener
  •    extra batteries
  •    sanitation supplies
  •    a wrench and pliers to turn off utilities if needed

A complete kit also contains:

  •    extra eyeglasses
  •    medications
  •    written prescriptions
  •    copies of insurance cards
  •    necessary documents for identification or access to accounts

Finally, it’s important to have a cell phone with a non-electrical charger—either solar or crank powered. Many times texts will go through when regular phone calls won’t.

The Personal Support Network

The personal support network guarantees execution of The Plan. Designate one person as your primary contact and get their agreement to check on your loved one personally. They will be the one you call when you can’t connect with your loved one. But, don’t stop there. Have a second and third person in the chain in case you can’t get hold of the primary contact. Also, make sure you have contacted the local police and fire department and explained your situation.

The FEMA website (www.ready.gov) has an app that you can download to your smartphone that includes weather alerts, safety standards and more. In an emergency, you can even text the word SHELTER,  a space, and your ZIP Code to 43362 (4FEMA) to find a shelter in your area – ex. SHELTER 66062.

Professional Care Management

Personal networks are helpful, but for an added layer of protection consider contracting the services of a care management company, such as Care Is There to be your first contact. Lauren Bond says that, in their initial consultation, they discuss everyone’s needs and wishes, and ask for direction on how to handle a situation the way you would if you were there. There are many other services that a geriatric care company may offer, and they can fill a unique niche when someone needs more than just a ride to the grocery store and less than daily nursing care. They can give peace of mind by managing personal as well as complex health issues on a regular basis or while someone is recuperating from surgery or illness. Their goal is to develop a long-term comfortable relationship with both you and your loved one that can evolve over time.

My Mother’s Rescue

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After forty-eight hours of relentless calling trying to connect with either Mom or Jean, a friend suggested I contact the Raytown Police Department. I did, and they responded immediately sending an officer who found Mom wrapped in several blankets and fine, but lonely and very scared.

I didn’t have The Plan in 1993. If I’d had and had sufficient resources to execute it, the outcome of the event would have been very different for both Mom and me. Involving the police had an unexpected benefit: I found out years later that the police had begun checking on my mother in the summer as well, whenever the temperature hit 100 degrees.

We can’t change the emergencies that arise, but we can prepare.