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Evacuating senior citizens
5 Tips: How to keep Mom and Dad out of harm's way.
September 23, 2005: 10:40 AM EDT
By Gerri Willis, CNN/Money contributing columnist

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Today a bus carrying as many as 45 elderly evacuees from Houston exploded in flames. As many as 20 may have died.

Tragically, we've learned over the past few weeks that in an evacuation senior citizens are especially vulnerable.

In today's top 5 tips we're going to tell you how you can keep mom and dad safe when a storm is headed their way.

1. Ask questions

If you have loved ones who are in a nursing home, you want to know they'll be safe. Ask the Nursing Home administrator if they have an agreement with an ambulance or a bus company in case of an evacuation. It is also a good idea to check the safety record of the bus company. You must also find out if there is another facility that residents can go to in case they need to leave the area.

"Nursing homes in the Katrina-battered areas were much more successful when they had arrangements with a nursing home in another part of the state," according to Lauren Shaham of the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging.

You will also want to ask if the home has any backup generators. Especially in very hot areas, lack of air conditioning can become a real concern. Make sure residents have proper identification. Ask about the specifics of the emergency plan.

Federal law requires that Nursing homes have a written emergency plan that is appropriate for their region. For example, in California, nursing homes must have an Earthquake disaster plan.

Nursing home staff members must also be trained in emergency procedures. Once a year there is a state inspection and a surprise drill. To see the results of the state inspections of various Nursing Homes, or any deficiencies found during inspection, click here.

2. Hunker down wisely

There are times when it may be safer for mom or dad to stay put instead of evacuate. This is especially true if there is a tornado because there's not a lot of advance notice.

Of course, under a mandatory evacuation announcement, you've just got to go. But if it makes more sense for your loved ones to remain in their homes, there are some steps you can take to maximize their safety.

First, think water. Fill up their bathtubs, stock their fridge with bottled water.

"Dehydration is a serious problem even for older people who are in good health. When an older adult becomes dehydrated, it influences every aspect of them, physically or mentally," says Alice Hedt, the director of the Citizen's Coalition for Nursing Home Reform.

Think about stocking up on food items like whole dry milk, peanut butter, canned fruit juices and dry cereals. It's very important to have two weeks' worth of medicine on hand. Have an extra pair of eyeglasses and hearing aid batteries.

3. Link up again

Finding your family in a massive crowd can be a heart-wrenching challenge. These times may be very stressful and upsetting for an older person.

But there are services there to help you. The American Red Cross Web site now has a Red Cross Movement Family Links Registry. Go here to register yourself, a missing relative, or to view the existing list. You can also check out the National Next of Kin Registry, where concerned relatives can post info in order to locate their loved ones.

If your mom or dad suffers from Alzheimer's, you may want to think about enrolling in the Alzheimer's Association's Safe Return program. For $40 the person is given an engraved bracelet and iron-on clothing labels. The person is entered into the Associations database. In case the patient wanders away, or gets lost, it's a way for the authorities to track down the next of kin. For more information, call the Alzheimer's Association at 1-800 272-3900 or go to

4. Relocate stat

In the event your mom or dad's house or senior residence was destroyed, you'll need to find them living arrangements as soon as possible.

A senior living referral service called "A Place for Mom" is currently helping families find alternative housing options for their aging loved ones. There is a database of facilities closest to New Orleans posted on their Web site at If you live outside the affected areas, you can call 1-877-mom-dad9.

5. Get them help

The effects of a hurricane like Katrina will be long-lasting. The trauma can reverberate for quite a long time. If you find your loved one is having trouble sleeping, shows signs of anxiety, fights with others more often, shows signs of depression or has nightmares, it may be time to seek professional help, according to the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress.

After the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina, a number of hotlines were set up to help people express their grief and find constructive ways of dealing with the emotional impact. Call the Department of Health and Human Services at 800-273-TALK(8255). Callers will be connected to a network of local crisis centers across the country.

Gerri Willis is a personal finance editor for CNN Business News and the host for Open House. E-mail comments to  Top of page

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