11 Ways to Help an Elderly Family Member Cope After a Natural Disaster

If you have an older family member who has been affected by a natural disaster, like a hurricane, a flood, a fire or an earthquake, the following suggestions may be useful to you and your family:

  • Encourage your family member to take time to cope. Help your family member realize that small daily tasks, such as getting water or groceries or arranging for garbage removal, are major accomplishments. Limit expectations about what can be done each day until their stress begins to diminish.
  • Look for signs of depression. Your family member may experience depression as a result of the disaster and may need some help talking about and working through these feelings. Make yourself available - by phone or by visiting - to talk. Encourage your family member to participate in social activities. If necessary, seek professional help.
  • Try to urge your family member to avoid relying on alcohol or medication in response to anxiety or sleeplessness. If he or she does need medication, make sure the prescribing physician knows about any other medications.
  • Go over living arrangements. If a new or temporary living arrangement is needed, take the time to understand your options and involve the older person in the decision. Your family member may be more cooperative and will feel even more respected if you include him or her in the decision-making process.
  • Think about issues like space and privacy if your older family member plans to move into your home. You'll also want to consider the availability of medical or social services in your area, and how your family will get along together.
  • Consider past traumas. A traumatic event such as a natural disaster may bring up memories of other traumas and stir up feelings from the past. Your family member may be reacting not only to this event but to a tragedy that happened long ago.
  • Be aware that the older person may not show a reaction to the disaster for months. The first response to a traumatic event is usually shock and denial. Stay alert for issues that may come up in the future that could be signs of a delayed reaction.
  • Help give your older relative a sense of purpose. For all of us, the feeling of helplessness may be the most painful of all. Being active in cleaning up, caring for others, or rebuilding the community can give the older person a sense of control, purpose, and hope.
  • Try to be patient if your family member asks the same questions or needs information again and again. When people are stressed and their routines are interrupted it's hard for them to absorb information, as their ability to concentrate is highly affected.
  • Encourage your family member to return to normal routines or to establish new ones. Acquaint your family member with options and resources in the area, such as a senior center, a gym, a place to walk, a coffee shop, and a house of worship. Also, introduce your family member to neighbors so that he or she will feel more welcome in the new area.
  • Seek professional help if your older family member is experiencing any of the following symptoms for a prolonged period of time:
    •     Flashbacks and disturbing memories about what has happened
    •     Feelings of numbness or detachment
    •     Bad dreams or difficulty sleeping
    •     Feelings of profound sadness or grief
    •     Feelings of anxiety, fear, guilt or powerlessness
    •     Feelings of anger and irritability
    •     Tiredness or fatigue
    •     Increased or decreased appetite
    •     Difficulty concentrating or forgetfulness
    •     Excessive crying
    •     Isolation or wanting to be alone more than usual
    •    Only wanting to be surrounded by people

Helpful information and resources are available through Military OneSource consultants. You can also encourage your family member to ask his or her doctor to suggest a mental health professional for more help.



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