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Preparing Children & Elderly for Hurricanes

Jul 15, 2013

When preparing for a hurricane, there are two groups of people that may need special attention - the extremely young and the extremely old, and in many cases, the duty falls on the 'sandwich generation,' those who have to prepare both their children and their elderly loved ones for the storm and its aftermath.

An elderly woman is helped into a boat to escape the flood waters of Hurricane Sandy in Little Ferry, N.J., in 2012.
Credit Adam Hunger / Reuters

Lisa Brown, a clinical psychologist and an Associate Professor of Aging Studies at USF, and Doctor Judith Bryant, a USF Professor of Psychology, shared a number of tips with us.

Brown says the most important thing is making sure EVERYONE knows what the plan will be if a storm is coming and a family has to evacuate.

“People are kind of flummoxed about, what do we do next, where do we go and how do we get help," she said. "Having that discussion ahead of time and coming up with some sort of a plan about what you might attempt to do can really help in terms of making someone feel more in control over basically an unknown situation.”

If an elderly parent or relative is in a nursing home, they’re likely going to be well taken care of. On the other hand, if they live alone or with you, you’ll have to make sure they have adequate supplies - batteries for a hearing aid and extra medication to start with.

“If they use an electric motor vehicle for transportation, you want to make sure that you’ve either got a walker or a cane available, because if you’re unable to readily recharge that vehicle, you’ll encounter problems with mobility," she said.

When it comes to children, Bryant says the focus should also be on constant communication. Talk about your plans and help them gather the family's supplies.

“Giving the child information, giving the child some control over what may happen, is perhaps the most important thing you can do,” according to Bryant.

Also, help them put together a small, personal evacuation kit, which could include things like toys, games or stuffed animals - items that don't necessarily require power, batteries or electricity.

“Some children like to journal and draw pictures. So that seems like a natural for children of almost any ages, and if the children are too young to write, they can tell their parents stories and the children can illustrate them," said Bryant.

“Let the children help choose those items is very important, again it gives a child a sense of control, the child knows what he or she will find meaningful," she added.

And she cautions that a caregiver for a child or an elderly person (or both) is the one who will most likely neglect other regular activities like eating and sleeping right during such a stressful time. That, she says, is a recipe for burn out.

“If we are distressed, if we are worried, they will definitely pick up on that and so it’s very important for our mental health as well to maintain a hopeful outlook and to try to acknowledge concern but not be overly worried," Bryant cautioned.

The American Red Cross has published information about hurricane preparations for both children and senior citizens.