By Art Nash
Many older people want to stay in the house they built or raised their kids in as long as they can. Yet in Alaska it can be difficult to finding housing stock with the types of modifications needed for elders, such as wide doors and hallways, low doorway thresholds, deep stair treads, and ramps for walkers or wheelchairs. In the past, many older Alaskans would move to the Lower 48 after retiring to find more accessible homes and communities.
The Alaska Commission on Aging says that Alaska has one of the fastest growing populations of seniors in the country and more of them are now wanting to stay in the state. Older Alaskans need to know what to do in the event of a natural disaster.
Hong Kong recently surveyed elderly residents to see how prepared they were. According to a 2012 study in “Geriatrics and Gerontology International,” less than a quarter of elderly people in Hong Kong were prepared to deal with a natural disaster, even though almost nine out of 10 reported having a survival pack easily accessible, eight out of 10 knew how to shut down the water, gas and electricity, and over half knew how to contact their family members!
Unlike in the Lower 48, where the Federal Emergency Management Agency asks residents to have a three-day survival kit ready, local emergency planning committees in Alaska suggest having seven days of supplies for every man, woman, child and pet. The Cooperative Extension Service publication, “Emergency Preparedness for Alaskans,” lists the supplies you should have on hand during and after any natural disaster. The checklist includes items needed for survival, sanitation, safety and comfort and cooking as well as emergency supplies you should always have in your home, office or car.
Older Alaskans should have these emergency supplies and they should also consider other important accessibility items in case of evacuation:
· portable grab bars with suction cups for hotel bathroom walls
· a walker with a fold-down seat in case they are unsteady
· folding or telescoping ramps for getting wheelchairs into pickup beds or over high door thresholds
· a four-point cane
· strong lighting that can project because aging eyes take about three times as much light to see accurately compared to a middle-aged person.
Older Alaskans may also want to add:
· fiber supplements in case of extended periods of immobility
· salts, spices and flavoring to encourage eating
· soft foods in case of dental or denture difficulties
· large lid water bottles that are easy to twist for hands that may be arthritic
· an extra week’s worth of medications in a seven-day compartment box
· extra batteries for hearing devices
· inhalers and a nebulizer with extra batteries if respiratory distress is probable during exertion or a period of poor air quality
Keep in mind the last point particularly in the case of a volcanic eruption with ash. If you stay in your home with windows closed, a damp towel along outside door thresholds and with air vents closed, then the ash should not endanger or contaminate your home as a source of refuge. In the case of an earthquake, indoor air quality will not be so much of a concern as the integrity of your structure. If you are in doubt, move out temporarily
Art Nash is the energy specialist for the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service. Contact him at (907)474-6366 or by email at email@example.com