When disaster strikes, people with special needs are often caught unaware and face the greatest difficulty in getting their needs met. Individuals with mental illness or chronic physical illnesses like dementia, heart disease, kidney-failure, etc. can be woefully unprepared to meet the challenges that follow disaster. Emergency planning tends to focus on people who are living independently in the community rather than those with special needs.
Those individuals who depend on caregivers for daily care may be left alone without the help they desperately need. Power outages can leave people who use oxygen concentrators having to switch to oxygen tanks…and may not have access to new ones when they old ones are empty. Those who are dependent on various medications may find they are unable to get to the pharmacy to get the drugs they need, or that the pharmacy has been unable to replenish their stock. Drug withdrawal may become life threatening.
Long after a disaster is over, persons with disabilities may find resources are limited and treatments have been restricted or terminated. Caregivers who provided necessary care are involved with caring for their own families and may not be available. Disaster may be especially hard on those with severe mental illness, or on persons living in long term care facilities. Evacuation can cause further confusion and losing touch with loved ones may cause excessive stress.
Those of us who have extra needs require special planning to make sure those needs are met in the event of a disaster. Special planning means assessing what your specific needs are; not just food and water, but what medications are you dependent on? Where should you go following an emergency? Who can you count on to help?
Keep a list of your medications. Consider making a copy of your prescription before you fill it next time. Keep it on hand in case you have to use a different pharmacy. If you use medical equipment such as oxygen concentrators, nebulizers, etc. keep a list that includes the style and serial numbers. Place important information in a water-proof container along with copies of your birth certificate, license, names of your doctors and other relevant information.
A little bit of special planning might mean you’ll come through a disaster in comfort. It may even contribute to your survival.
Last week, during one of those nasty snowfalls that dumped a ton of snow on us, I went out to clear our driveway using the snow blower. While I was forcing it forward through a particularly high pile of snow, my foot slipped. I wrenched my knee, I believe pulling a muscle.
Now it hurts when I stretch it out fully or when I bend it too tight. I limped around for a couple of days using a cane. That helped. I found I could not bend it enough to get my sock on. Fortunately, I had a sock puller that I had on hand for a friend who didn’t need it after I bought it. Then, I couldn’t get my shoe on. Again, I turned to assistive technology to help. I used a long-handled shoe horn to put my shoes on. Without the help of these items, I’d have been in a very bad way.
Many times people refuse to use assistive technology devices for fear it will make them look old. Ok, how old do you think you look limping around without shoes or socks? I was very grateful that I had these assistive technology items on hand.
The VA is continually working to identify assistive technology that helps disabled soldiers. Consider a recent article on prosthetic limbs. Now they are often made of titanium, meaning they last longer and work better. Veterans with above the knee amputations can now walk in a more natural way thanks to a new prosthetic device called a BiOM. The BiOM is unique because it moves so naturally, the wearer doesn’t get tired.
Whether it’s a big ticket item like a prosthetic leg or a small change like a long-handled shoe horn, check out assistive technology and what it can do for you!
As an Independent Living Specialist, I see many people who are living in a nursing home who want to go home. I also see quite a few individuals living at home who are terrified that they are going to end up in a nursing home. Although most of us realize there are times we need more care than our loved ones can provide for us at home, we also hate the prospect of ending up dependent on others…especially for such things as toileting, bathing, and dressing. And it’s not just having to let someone else help with those personal daily tasks. It’s also knowing that you’ll be one of a multitude of people needing the same kind of help, and it’s not going to be performed on your schedule. You’re going to have to wait your turn. That’s fine until I have to go to the toilet!
So, what can you do to hedge your bets and give yourself the best chance of remaining independent? Well, the first professional advice I can give you is treat your family well. No, really, guess who is first in line to be providing that care when you need it: right, your spouse and children. If your spouse is in good health, you’re in luck. If your kids are willing to step up to the plate, all the better. There does often come a time though when your care may require professional nursing or 24/7 dedication. Believe me, one person cannot provide that kind of care. If you are demanding and crabby, your family is going to be quicker to give up and put you in the nursing home. You need to make it as easy on them as possible to care for you, because remember, this isn’t all they do. It’s something that gets added on to their existing load. I say this all from having seen many veterans, both men and women, who get crabby because of their pain, and take it out on their spouse and kids.
The next step you can take is to keep yourself as healthy as possible, as long as possible. LISTEN to your doctor. For goodness sake, you’re paying him or her to give you his/her professional opinion on how to best deal with your health issues. Follow their advice. If what they’ve suggested isn’t working, tell them. Then follow their advice for what else to do.
Pay attention to the little things. Get enough sleep. Eat some healthy foods. Do what you can to reduce your stress. Get involved. Volunteer if you can’t work. Do something for someone else. Nothing can help you realize your blessings like helping someone who has less than you do.
I was driving home looking at the sun shining on the snow in the trees yesterday and it was so beautiful it took my breath away. A wet snow had fallen during the night and each brand glittered with a silver lining. That’s one of the magnificent things about winter in Michigan if you’re not too buried in snow to enjoy it!
As I drove, I thought about how lucky I have been that there has never been a war on United States soil during my lifetime. Not that we haven’t lost our young people to war in other countries, but to my knowledge, there has not been a war on American soil in many, many years.
I was struck by how much I’ve taken that for granted. I don’t mean I’m ungrateful: I am not! But for those of us who have never seen battle, it’s difficult to imagine what it’s like.
I thought about how we are always looking for Shang Ra La or Nirvana – that place where there is no war, no hatred, no one who would rather shoot you or blow you up than look at you. And it stuck me we could have it all if we’d just manage to live together in peace. I guess we have a lot of years yet to mature as a species before we’ll be ready to do that. Until that time, I’m so very glad that there are men and women ready to step into the line of fire to keep the rest of us safe. I want to say, “Thank you” for that. I truly appreciate your gift.