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Being Prepared

The other day, just as the temperature here in Phoenix was inching toward the 90-degree-mark for the first time this year, the air conditioning went out.

Of course! No surprise here. You can always tell that the “warm” weather is fast approaching when the winter visitors start streaming out of the area, back to Iowa or Illinois or Canada or wherever, and the air conditioning repair people start streaming in.

For me, the only thing worse than my air conditioning not working?

My elderly mom’s air conditioning not working.

And that’s exactly what happened.

Through the strategic opening and closing of windows, shutters, and drapes – and the help of the ceiling fan – my mom and her stalwart helper got through the day. Thankfully, the a/c got fixed with relatively little inconvenience and expense. Thankfully, my mom really didn’t even notice. (When the typical indoor temperature is a toasty 78, 80 isn’t really all that sweltering – to her!) So…a happy ending.

But it was critical that it got fixed. My mom’s helper – and me – can power through indoor temperatures in the 80s or even 90s short term, if necessary. But for my mom – or any elderly loved one – trying to do so could result in an actual health crisis.

That’s the case with a lot of situations. Those bumps in the road that you or I can hopefully handle with a minimum of discomfort or distress can spiral quickly into a true emergency for our elderly loved ones.

Are you, if you care about an elderly loved one, prepared to deal with one?

It doesn’t have to be an air conditioning – or heat – malfunction. It could be a toilet backing up. A power outage. A flood. A snowstorm. A tornado watch/warning. An earthquake. A wildfire. A hazardous materials spill. A police evacuation.

What would you do? What would they do? Is your elderly loved one capable of dealing with the emergency at hand? Or at least getting through it until you or someone can show up on scene?

If you live locally, are you able to respond quickly? What if you are at work? Out of town? On vacation?

If you don’t live locally, who do you know and trust to step in? What if they are at work? Out of town? On vacation?

If your elderly loved one lives in an assisted living or other facility, do you know how staff would deal with an emergency? Are you onboard with it?

No one likes to contemplate an emergency involving their elderly loved one. No need to do so, right?

That’s maybe what the families of those who died in the California wildfires last year, many of whom were elderly and unable to evacuate, thought. You might want to talk to my cousin, who helped evacuate my aunt’s assisted living facility when her apartment caught fire. (She just happened to be staying overnight that particular night!) Or check in with the health authorities in Quebec, who estimate that of the 70 people who died in a heat wave last July, most were elderly.

I am fortunate that I live within 3 miles of my mom and that she has someone with her 24/7. Obviously, that takes care of a lot of emergency scenarios. But not all.

What if I am at work, or out of town, or on vacation and, for some reason, cannot reach anyone at my mom’s house? (I would contact the home care agency; they or police/fire could get into my mom’s house using the key stored in the lockbox on the front door.)

What if my mom and her helper need to evacuate? (I would give the agency access to my home – 3 miles away – or arrange for them to stay at a nearby hotel, which I have already checked out.)

Is this overreaction? Is this a doom-and-gloom mindset? I don’t think so.

I came across a kind of cool booklet online, published by the American Red Cross and titled “Disaster Preparedness By Seniors For Seniors.” It’s written by Vi, Melvin Q., Julia L., Nancy C., Marion V., Jam, Dorothy M., Janet H., Fran, Roger H., Mary S., and LaVinia, all seniors who experienced a 2-week power outage when an ice storm hit Rochester, New York.

They sound like anybody's mom or dad, grandma or grandpa. Let them tell you what you need to do.

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