Imagine your aging parent or other loved one living alone and losing power from a natural disaster or an intentional blackout. What would they do?
It’s fire season in California and with it come massive preventive power cutoffs from the largest utility company. There are lessons for all of us in what we are seeing. The power outages are intentional, supposedly to avert the horrific and disastrous fire damage that has occurred in the recent past. It’s not working. Power outages bring their own crises, particularly to vulnerable elders. Many elders live alone, some with major mobility problems and some depending on electricity to run medical devices. At AgingParents.com, elders are our focus. No client has yet raised the issue of an aging parent being without power, or unable to escape when necessary. I’ll bet that changes now.
Recent news coverage in CA highlights the life-threatening risks to our elders who cannot survive without such things as mechanical breathing assistance. (This danger is not limited to elders). If you have a loved one living alone, consider what you can do to keep them safer in the event of a disaster or even a proactive power cutoff.
Elders in a two-story seniors’ apartment building in my county were interviewed during the blackout. One of the able-bodied gentlemen living there described how some of his neighbors in wheelchairs could not get out without a working elevator. It was completely dark in the building. Some elderly residents there didn’t even have flashlights. One woman on continuous oxygen had enough backup power for a couple of days but the outage lasted longer than that. She described the feeling of complete panic. Everyone was scared.
Everyone should have flashlights, batteries, a battery-powered radio, non-perishable food and water on hand, regardless of where one lives. Does your loved one have these things? Everyone should have a plan for how to evacuate one’s home or apartment, particularly if the person is wheelchair bound. Whether you live close by or not, you can help with preparation.
Every necessary item for preparedness, with the exception of water can be ordered online and delivered to your aging loved one. All public safety entities offer lists to help us know what we need to have on hand. Does your loved one have the things on the list? If your aging parent lives alone, be sure he or she knows whom to call if danger lurks or a power outage is likely. A medical alert pendant or bracelet will call for help, assuming that phone and internet are working.
In my county, over half of the cell phone transmission towers were down during the blackout and many here and in surrounding counties had no internet for days! Your loved one needs a plan. If your aging parent uses a cell phone, a solar charger or backup power source for charging the phone is a must.
Any aging loved one with memory problems who could not figure out how to put new batteries in a flashlight should not be living alone any longer. Leaving them to fend for themselves is far too dangerous when life-threatening conditions arise around them.
We try our best to learn from these frightening and uncomfortable situations we have witnessed in the last week. Regardless of where your aging loved one resides, family members can take proactive steps to protect them against the unpredictable. They need our oversight.
Carolyn L. Rosenblatt, RN, Elder law attorney, AgingParents.com
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