As Hurricane Irma prepares to make landfall in Florida, millions of seniors are nervously awaiting their fate in the wake of the great storm. More than 5 million seniors over the age of 60 live in Florida and many are concentrated near the vulnerable southern coast.
Older adults have been flocking to Florida for decades to escape harsh winters in the north but tropical storms also put seniors, often dependent on electric wheelchairs or medical equipment, at risk during a power outage. And those who live independently but with restricted mobility may find themselves unable to reach safety.
Despite best efforts to plan and prepare for a natural disaster, many elderly Florida residents are anxiously waiting it out at home. Nursing home residents who have been evacuated face a stressful relocation that in the past has taken a serious toll on frail older adults. And seniors with dementia who don’t fully understand when their routine in dramatically changed can become disoriented and agitated which can worsen an already chaotic environment.
Spending hours stuck in traffic trying to reach a safe destination may not be the ideal choice; nursing home residents that shelter in place with state mandated backup generators, food and water may fare better in the long run. A 2011 study following hurricane Katrina in 2005 found that nursing home residents who were evacuated were far more likely to have serious or deadly health conditions develop within 30 days than those who sheltered in place.
For seniors who live independently, the Special Needs Registry helps to provide shelter for residents who need assistance during a disaster. However, during an emergency, it may take up to 72 hours for government agencies to reach residents. Plan to take care of yourself and loved ones during this time with a disaster supply kit and a family disaster plan.
To learn more about preparing for a natural disaster visit the Florida Division of Emergency Management here.