A Prepared Caregiver

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Photo of older hands holding younger hands.

Back in 2007, Annie and her siblings began seeing early signs of Alzheimer’s Disease in their mother. Annie’s mother, Margaret was 79 years old and had begun to become confused and get lost while driving. Annie no longer felt she should be left alone to take care of herself. She decided it would be best for her mother to move into a small apartment addition she built onto her house.

Margaret and Annie on Annie's wedding day.Nearly six months after her mother moved in, Annie began to increase basic care for her mother, making her meals and eventually leaving her job to stay at home with her full-time. Annie and her family took many precautions to ensure the safety and health of Margaret including building safety rails in her bathroom, having a medical alert support system for her, providing her a walker when she began to lose her sense of balance and installing a camera monitoring system that could allow Annie to check on her mother in her apartment. Even with all the care and support she was given, Annie recalls how her mother would often become confused or lost, and despite access to medical support like a medical alert system or a walker, Margaret would forget how to use these items or that she needed them.

In 2008, Hurricane Gustav hit the family’s town of West Monroe, Louisiana. They were concerned about the confusion and distress it could cause Margaret. “She wanted to use candles when the lights went out,” recalls Annie, “but I was concerned she would forget they were lit or knock them over.”  Annie and her family were prepared with flashlight lanterns that could help provide a safer source of light. Beyond impacting basic needs, the storm and power outages added to Margaret’s confusion. “We would try to get her to come into the main house to be closer to us,” said Annie, “but that would only make her more confused about where she would sleep and anxious about feeling trapped.  With the lights out she did not have a clear sense of day and night. She slept through most of the storm— and often would wake up in the middle of the night.”

Portrait of MargaretMargaret’s past contributed to a heightened fear of storms. When she was younger, she was trapped in a trailer during a tornado, making her more fearful of any type of bad weather. “During and after Hurricane Gustav, Margaret became obsessed with the weather channel,” said Annie. “She got a weather radio that was constantly going off, making her alarmed and distraught at every sign of potentially bad weather—eventually we had to remove the batteries.” The combination of fear and a diminishing consciousness and memory, made Margaret’s ability to respond to emergency situations nearly impossible without the help of her daughter.

Annie said she had a lot of support from her husband and children in caring for her mother, and her siblings offered moral support and care relief when needed. When it comes to advice for other caregivers about being prepared for emergencies Annie stresses the need for:

  • Supplies for basic needs. We had light sources if the power went out and a generator if there was severe winter weather and we were able to provide these for my mother in her apartment, too.
  • Food available that does not have to be cooked.
  • A support network or somewhere to go during a disaster. “We are fortunate that in an emergency we have the ability to go stay with my sister or get a hotel,” said Annie. “If we could not make it to these places, we also have hurricane shelters in our area we could go.”
  • Know your neighbors. We had a situation where my mother was locked out of the house, and fortunately we had a neighbor who recognized her and knew she may need help. They invited her into their home, out of the cold, and were able to contact me and my husband.
  • Plan on what to do if you are not there. “I do not know what we would have done if we had not been home with my mother during power outages or storms,” said Annie. “But it would be important to know who could help during a situation like that.”

More people like Annie are taking on the responsibility of providing care to an elderly parent or relative.  It is important for caregivers to have the support and information they need to provide care and be prepared for caring for someone in a disaster. Learn more about what you need to do to be prepared to care for older adults during an emergency or natural disaster by visiting CDC’s Aging Adults website.

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2 comments on “A Prepared Caregiver”

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    Thank you for posting this and bringing attention to preparedness for Caregivers and those with Disabilities. The only thing I would add is for them to also reach out to their local emergency management community and see what resources they have or for severe medical situations…to help bring awareness and perhaps pre-identification for pre-planning by the community.

    This post is about something that a lot of adults are dealing with every day, sick parents. Annie’s mom is dealing with 2 issues, Alzheimer’s disease and Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome(PTSD). The storm from the hurricane caused Margaret to flashback to a past trauma. The tornado Margaret experienced when she was younger caused her to over react to the present day storm. Flashbacks, feeling jumpy and insomnia are a few of the symptoms. So, being trapped in anything is traumatic but also feeling the wind of the storm tossing the trailer that you are trapped in can be very upsetting to anyone. The good thing is the family was prepared with the basics. I agree with the comment about reaching out to other emergency agencies in the community to have all the help they can get. Educate the family on Alzheimer’s and PTSD would help Annie and family deal with the different phase of both disorders.

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Page last reviewed: September 18, 2014
Page last updated: September 18, 2014