How Seniors Can Cope During Fire Season

September 10, 2020 by Institute on Aging


Fire season started in Northern California much earlier in 2020 than any of us ever expected, thanks to a series of unprecedented lightning storms in August. Experts predict that we are in for a whopper of a fire season this Fall, adding insult to the injury of a global pandemic that has left many of us anxious and on edge already.

Mary Griffin, who leads the home care division for Institute on Aging, has been working steadfastly on a care management strategy for IOA participants living in fire prone zones. Between potential evacuations and air quality issues, there is a lot for Bay Area seniors and their caregivers to consider and be concerned about, especially those older adults who are mobility compromised or dealing with complex medical issues. Griffin has this advice to offer to seniors, their caregivers and families in terms of mitigating fire-related concerns:

  1. Put a plan in place. Seniors and their families need to put together a plan well in advance on how mandatory evacuations will be handled. Many assisted living places are not accepting new patients due to the pandemic, so staying with friends, family members or at a hotel may be the best (and only) option. Consider all the possibilities and come up with a few housing scenarios, make a list of what to pack and jot down instructions on how to handle prescriptions and other necessities. Put it all in writing and keep in a safe place.
  • Find a local agency and connect with them. In her experience, Griffin says that it can be tough to get the attention of local firefighting and police organizations as they are often at capacity during a major disaster like a fire. If a senior needs help with an evacuation, they may be better off enlisting a local community organization to help them with temporarily relocation, providing transportation and other support. If the senior requires special assistance, such as a wheelchair accessible van, make sure to research organizations who have appropriate equipment well in advance.

A partial list of community organizations that may be willing to step up and help:

Archdiocese of San Francisco

Catholic Charities of San Francisco

Jewish Family and Children’s Services

Rotary Club

SFFD Volunteer Fire Dept

SFMTA Paratransit

Plus the following two sites list a number of organizations which can be contacted for help:

VOAD – Voluntary Organizations in Disaster

SF CARD – Community Agencies Responding to Disaster

  • Invest in an air purifier. Fires in Northern California have proven that they are going to be a yearly problem, so investing in a home air purifier is a good idea. Although purifiers can vary wildly in terms of price, you should be able to get a decent one for $150 or less, like this purifier that retails for about $85. Also invest in a few N95 masks in case seniors and caregivers need to go outdoors.
  • Hire a temporary home care worker. Even if older adults can manage fine by themselves in normal times, a situation like a potential evacuation can add a tremendous amount of stress, especially if the senior has no family members close by. Families can arrange for a home care assistant to come in for a few hours a day on a temporary basis to help the senior pack, find a place to stay, and arrange for medication and transportation in the event of a potential evacuation. Plus, says Griffin (a former nurse), hiring a home care worker on a temporary basis can help a senior who has been very resistant to the idea of extra help become more comfortable with it.
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