Emergency Planning for Solo Agers
Emergencies strike without warning — here are steps to take when you are facing a crisis and family can't be there to help
For Beth (not her real name) living alone is a good thing. Over the years, she has grown accustomed to the single lifestyle. She's satisfied with doing things on her own, even to take long bike rides. Just the other day, the cool weather motivated Beth to do exactly that — jump on the bicycle for a ride.
But this ride was different. As she glided down the driveway, and turned onto a busy street, nothing could have prepared her for what was about to happen A few miles away from home, from nowhere, an eighteen-wheeler skirted a little too close, blowing Beth off balance. Stunned, she jerked the bike a bit too hard which sent her hurling over the handlebars, crashing on her hip. She stayed there until the ambulance showed up.
In the ER, the doctor reported: "Broken hip, you'll be in rehab awhile. Who should we call?"
Having a trusted friend, family member or professional to call or text as an emergency contact should be the top priority when compiling confidants for medical records, important documents and smartphones. The designation is I.C.E.: In Case of Emergency contact. And it should be labeled as such. Perhaps you rely on a close friend or family. But if you have no one nearby, you're stuck.
"To feel secure and connected, develop a team of people who can support you."
In 2019, the Institute of Healthcare Policy and Innovation claimed 22% of the 50 to 80 age group had an emergency or disaster such as a power outage lasting more than a day, severe weather, evacuation or lockdown, while 73% reported experiencing at least one such event during their lifetime.
Although more than half of older adults believe they will experience some type of crisis, the majority feel confident in their ability to manage. And when living alone, it's critical to prepare and develop a support network of friends.
Create a group of people for social interactions and relationships, as well as a group that will look out for one another. What's important is that you're comfortable with one another and you actively participate in the relationships. If you enjoy their company and conversation, they are part of your network.
Alison Arnett, geriatric care manager at PremierCMGA in Atlanta, suggests developing a purpose-driven network. "No one lives alone — there are people all around. To feel secure and connected, develop a team of people who can support you," she says. "Many times, people are stuck because they have no one to look out for their welfare."
Where To Find People to Support You
- Make a list of activities and groups that give the opportunities to engage with people: Political, religious, sports, social or hobbies
- Visit local senior centers, public libraries and volunteer
- Get to know your neighbors
- Teach a hobby and a skill that you excel in at the local community college or lifelong learning institute
- Call the Area Agency on Aging for a list of active adults’ groups
- Contact local NCOA active aging programs
Caryn Issacs of New York, a patient advocate with GetHealthHelp.com, advises, "When selecting people to care for you in time of need, pick those who know your preferences, and who are strong enough to lift things like shopping bags and even walkers. It's vital they know how to access transportation and other services. It's better if they're active listeners and efficient note takers. And you must trust them."
Here are several types of emergencies you should prepare for:
For a power outage lasting over 24 hours, two in three older adults felt very confident that they were prepared, 27% were somewhat confident, and only 4% were not confident at all, according to the Institute of Healthcare Policy and Innovation.
In July, my high rise building in Texas lost power for 17 hours. The temperature hit 100 degrees outside. The outage was not city wide; however, a year earlier during a winter storm, power failed throughout the metroplex. From that, I learned to be better prepared.
Arnett suggests, "Learn the locations of the city-sponsored shelters in case of lost power and situations like a snowmageddon." People need to know where to go and have a plan to get there in case of a weather-related crisis. Finding shelter is critical. Visit a Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) to receive guidance or information. Additionally, make sure to know when to evacuate an area.
- Meals, snacks and water for up to two weeks
- Styrofoam coolers for food storage
- Flashlights, lanterns and candles
- Extra batteries
- Battery operated laptop, cell phone charger, radio and fan
- Cash on hand
- Read the full guide at Ready.gov to learn what’s needed in a power outage plan
No one expects to slice one's finger while preparing food, which I experienced. When it happened, there were neighbors who I knew could help out. I grabbed a towel, wrapped the finger and walked down the hall to a friend's apartment.
And if the crisis is more traumatic than a cut finger like a bicycle accident or a broken hip, Nancy Ruffner, a patient advocate in North Carolina, encourages third-person thinking which removes you from the situation. If you land in the hospital, who could step in and do what needs to be done?
"When making a plan, remove the emotions and focus on the tasks — who could get mail/find or assemble bills and pay them? Who will watch your home; water plants, check for security, turn lights off and on, move things around outside to create the appearance of someone there?" says Ruffner. "If you have a pet, who will care for it?"
"When making a plan, remove the emotions and focus on the tasks"
Have a hospital go-to bag filled and ready to grab. Include an I.C.E. list (in case of emergency contact list) of medications and medical conditions, a photocopy of a health insurance card, Medicare card (black out the last four digits of the Social Security number,) toiletries, pen and notebook, puzzle books, lip balm, hand sanitizer, personal grooming items, a copy of the Healthcare Power of Attorney documents. Identify a key contact person. Make an extra copy of the contents of each folder and leave it with a friend or relative at home.
Create a spreadsheet listing your support contacts and information such as who will look after your home, pet, vehicle, food in the refrigerator, etc. Also list who will check on you in the hospital, gather necessities and bring them to you.
Mountain regions aren't the only areas affected by winter storms. Even low altitude regions get hit. Blankets of snow snarls traffic and keep people indoors. In 2016, winter storm Jonas crushed the Northeast with up to 31 inches of snow.
During winter storms, the priority is staying warm and safe. Here are some tips for planning ahead:
Home: Keep the cold out with insulation, caulking and weather stripping. Keep pipes from freezing. Install and test smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors with battery backups. Install storm or thermal-pane windows or cover windows with plastic from the inside. If you're without power, have a power outage emergency kit on hand.
Car: jumper cables, sand, flashlight, warm clothes, blankets, bottled water and non-perishable snacks. Keep a full tank. Ready.gov offers a full guide for car preparation.
As has been observed recently in the wake of Hurricane Ian in Florida and the Carolinas, it's important to be prepared for an emergency, knowing that internet access could be impacted by major storms. Ready.gov offers options for emergency messages from authorized federal, state, local, tribal and territorial public alerting authorities that broadcast warnings.
Be Wary of Disaster Related Scams
Colleen Tressler, Bureau of Consumer Protection, Federal Trade Commission, warns, "In addition to preparing for weather disasters, protect yourself from scammers. These criminals use emergencies to cheat consumers."
- Clean-up and repair scams — Ask for IDs, licenses, proof of insurance, and references. Ask friends for referrals. Put all promises in writing and understand what you’re signing. Never pay cash or full payment until the work is done and you’re satisfied.
- Imposter scams — Ask for IDs. If they ask for money or a bank account or credit card number, it’s a scam.
- Job scams — be alert
- Be wise to rental listing scams
Be alert, stay safe, and prepare for emergencies. Do it now before you're taken by surprise and build a support team of nearby peers and friends.