Why hurricanes can be especially difficult for senior citizens

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have shown the tremendous risks to the health and livelihoods of millions at the hands of dangerous storms. For the elderly who live in hurricane zones, severe storms pose even more of a threat since many have disabilities and medical conditions for which they need special care.

Because many seniors also have trouble getting around, they can often find themselves more vulnerable in disaster conditions. Protecting elderly loved ones when a hurricane strikes and in its aftermath requires special attention and planning.

Even independent seniors can suffer disproportionately from natural disasters like hurricanes, especially when basic necessities like food and water are hard to find.

“The frailest of the adults are unlikely to manage the money stressors and the aftereffects of a hurricane,” said Dr. Anne Fabiny, a UCSF School of Medicine professor working at the San Francisco VA center. “Be it using a cane, a walker or being consigned to a bed, the elderly cannot respond to adversities like this without help.”

Here are few of the major challenges faced by the elderly –- and how best to overcome them:

Access to the necessities: Food, water and medications

Access to safe food and water is a challenge during natural disasters. The elderly tend to run an increased risk of dehydration because they may not feel thirsty, a lack of sensation that becomes more problematic as people grow older.

Those caring for elderly loved ones should make sure they have access to potable water and make sure they are actually drinking it. Also, because the elderly tend to take more medications, it is vitally important to ensure that they have access to all essential medications, whether at home or in a shelter.

Getting to a safe place, even when moving around is a challenge

Many elderly require a wheelchair, a walker or some other kind of assistive device to get around. They may also need hearing and visual aids. So provisions should be in place for transportation of the elderly along with their assistive devices during a storm. For the elderly living in assisted living and nursing homes, the facilities should have an emergency plan to transport the elderly, if necessary, to a safe shelter with all their medications and assistive devices.

Power outages can cause an even more dire situation for some seniors. Many pieces of specialized medical equipment used disproportionately by the elderly rely on electricity. One example: a 2005…

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