It’s National Family Caregivers Month! Help Special Needs and Elderly Loved Ones Prepare.
Last week, President Obama proclaimed November as National Family Caregivers Month to pay tribute to caregivers across the nation who work tirelessly to provide support and compassion for elderly and special needs loved ones. Ready Georgia salutes these individuals for their service and selflessness, and wants to remind Georgians that caring for a loved one should include helping them prepare for emergencies.
Today we are speaking with Laura George, a Georgia resident who has been her husband’s primary caregiver since his severe spinal cord injury more than five years ago. In the first month after her husband came home from the hospital, a hurricane threatened the couple’s home and forced Laura to make some difficult decisions about how best to keep them both safe. That experience has made her a passionate advocate for emergency preparedness, especially for people with special needs. She will share her expertise on helping to prepare loved ones for the unexpected.
Interviewer: Thanks for talking with us today, Laura. I’d like to start by asking you what you knew about emergency preparedness before your husband’s injury. Were you ready for hurricanes and other natural disasters?
Laura: My husband’s injury was initially in Florida. And before we came to Florida, I knew only of tornadoes and snow, take cover, have food. I would grade our preparedness level at about a D. When we got to Florida in ’92, 2 months after that, Hurricane Andrew hit and we spent the next 14 years going through hurricanes before Hurricane Wilma hit in 2005, when we lost all of our utilities for the week. And at that time, or by that time, I’d probably grade our preparedness at about a B-.
Interviewer: Once your husband was injured, emergency preparedness became much more important to you. Can you tell us a bit about the difficult situation you faced?
Laura: Yeah, he had his accident in March 2006, and at that time I was three months pregnant, so we asked the hospital, “What do we do to prepare for hurricane season?” And even on the day of his discharge, I asked and they said, “Nobody’s ever asked us that before.” Six months later, when I was then eight and a half months pregnant and Hurricane Ernesto was upon us, I found myself in the position of choosing between my husband and that of our unborn child. In Florida, when the barometric pressure drops, it can cause spontaneous birth. But as there was no assistance, I had to choose between the two of them, and I chose my husband since he had no assistance and he couldn’t do anything. From there, I said I obviously had to get involved to make changes.
Interviewer: Following that experience, what have you done to prepare your family for emergencies? How do your preparedness needs differ from other families’?
Laura: First of all, we understand that we are not a completely able-bodied family and there-in recognizing Greg’s medical concerns are anything but common. We have to consider the extreme scenarios in designing our plan such as mobility, temperature and excruciating pain. We get the normal things like food, batteries, etc., but we also have to be sure that we have extra catheters and practice how to run the wheelchair manually, as well as the generator. I keep Greg’s biomedical resume up-to-date – that’s about eight pages long. I communicate with his medical professionals, doctors, paratransit, and home help on what the plans are in case a situation comes up. And because of the unusual nature of some of Greg’s conditions, I also then, as you said earlier, became involved in county emergency preparedness committees to help establish some of the needed resources.
Interviewer: From your experience, what are some tips that you can share with caregivers on what unique needs to consider when preparing and planning for seniors and family members with special needs?
Laura: Consider the extreme situations, no matter how unlikely, and how it will affect your loved one. Ask yourself what do you and your loved one need if you lost your home in a disaster. Consider those needs beyond the food and water. The more you consider your needs, the better you’re going to be prepared. If that day would come, you would have at least some idea of what to do. So, in other words, if they were on oxygen, what is the backup plan if the electricity goes out? If they were blind, how would you get around say without the aid of your cane or your service dog? If you’re hearing impaired, do you have extra batteries, can you use a chalkboard? How are you going to take care of those aids that might help you communicate? If the senior family member with special needs had to work through the disaster without your ability to be there, what’s the backup plan? Another thing is to coordinate with family members and friends who can be a part of your support system. Again, doctors, home help, paratransit, even your place of worship or community center. If you find that you need help creating a plan, if they don’t exist, call your local emergency management agency and tell them you want to get involved. Don’t just make a plan for the person you’re caring for. You’re the caregiver, so make sure that you include yourself in the plan.
Laura, thanks for taking time with us to share your story on how you have helped your husband prepare, and highlight the importance of recognizing his unique needs to prepare him for any emergency.
According to a 2010 study from Ready Georgia, 80 percent of Georgians are very willing to help an elderly or a disabled family member prepare for a large scale emergency, while 73 percent said they are very willing to help an elderly or disabled neighbor or friend prepare. Whichever it is for you - family, friend or neighbor - Ready Georgia encourages you to contribute to the well-being of a loved one by helping them prepare for emergencies just as Laura has.
To create an emergency plan like Laura did for her family, visit ready-dot-ga-gov to create a Ready profile so that you’ll know what to do before, during and after a disaster.
Thanks for tuning in, and be sure to join us for our next edition!