Special Care for Special Folks

Terrorism, earthquakes, floods and fires. Oh, my. These alarming things can all happen, even in Sudbury, but the truth is that most of them are not every day or even every year occurrences. So why do we need people to get ready for them now?

Well, one answer is that for some of our residents, emergency preparations may be needed every few months. That’s because a heat wave, a snow storm, an ice storm or a hurricane with a power outage may be taken in stride by young adults but can be a real emergency for seniors and people with disabilities.

It’s easy to see why a person who relies on electricity to power an oxygen generator is at risk if the power fails, but even people whose needs are less obvious may be at risk.

Gerontologists tell us that as we age, our bodies become less resilient. Even for the healthiest of us, the internal regulatory mechanism that keeps us on an even keel becomes less able to cope with stressful environmental conditions. For example, extreme heat (temperatures over 90 degrees for a day or more) can cause an older person’s internal temperature to slowly rise to unsafe levels.

Research also shows that as people age, they become less sensitive to feelings of thirst. When dehydration is coupled with rising body temperature, the result can be heat prostration or even heat stroke. Both of these conditions require medical intervention.

That’s why a heat wave, where the temperature reaches 90 for three or more days in a row may simply be uncomfortable for a younger person, but can be a real danger for people in their 70s, 80s or 90s. For this reason, emergency preparedness systems for seniors may be needed every summer, or even more than once in a single summer.

Of course, the same is true for a cold snap. Hours of sitting still under cold conditions may predispose a senior to hypothermia, and this is especially true if the person has to be out of doors. The problem is greatly worsened if the power fails and the house begins to lose warmth. One of the most unfortunate symptoms of hypothermia is confusion and disorientation. Anyone suffering from this problem is unlikely to be able to make sound decisions for him or herself.

Fortunately, we have time now to get ready for the challenges presented by the changeable New England weather.

Once of the best things seniors or people with disabilities can do for themselves is to put themselves on the Sudbury Emergency Call List. This is a confidential list of those who would like to be called in case of an emergency. The list is only available to the Senior Center, the Fire and Police Departments and the Town Social Worker. If there were to be a heat wave or other emergency, everyone on the list would receive a personal call to be sure they were all right, and would receive an offer of assistance.

Another easy step is to fill out a File of Life form. Available free from the Senior Center, the File is a magnetic plastic envelope that goes on the refrigerator door. Inside is a form to complete with medical information, details about dosages of medications, emergency contacts, and more. Emergency personnel know to look on the refrigerator for the File. This is an especially big help when the ill person is so incapacitated that he or she can’t speak. The Senior Center also has a wallet-sized version of the File available for free.

Then there are the things people can do to keep themselves safe in the heat and cold. In the summer, stay indoors during the hottest time of the day, and avoid strenuous activity. Drink plenty of fluids (even if you don’t feel thirsty) but avoid alcohol. Keep the curtains closed on the sunny side of the house. Get an electric fan, and use it. Dress for summer in lightweight light-colored clothing. Spend more time in air-conditioned places. Even a few hours break from the heat helps your body recover. The Senior Center is air conditioned, so feel free to drop in.

In the winter, have extra blankets on hand. Dress in layers of loose-fitting clothing, and remember to wear a hat. Stock up on non-perishable food that doesn’t require cooking, like canned goods, candy bars, and crackers. Check your flashlight batteries. Remember that in sub-freezing weather, a thin layer of ice may make walkways hazardous and slipping easy. Walk carefully and hang on to railings and other supports.

Neighbors can get together and make a plan to check on others in nearby houses, especially if the others are seniors or people with disabilities. Sometimes a simple signal system, such as a raised curtain in the morning, can let outsiders know that the person at home is safe.

The Town of Sudbury is working hard to come up with a comprehensive emergency plan for the whole community, but while the details are being finalized there is a lot that seniors and people with disabilities can do to help themselves. Specific information on emergency preparedness is available at the Senior Center, please call Information Specialist, Anne Manning for assistance.