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A Caregiver’s Role is Crucial for Protecting Seniors during Wildfires

California wildfires, seniors, home caregivers

Of all the people affected by the California wildfires, seniors are the ones affected the most. In the November wildfires, 75% of the people missing were seniors. Seniors and people with compromised immune systems are particularly at risk for health problems caused by wildfire toxins — and during a wildfire, these toxins are not just in the air, either.

Toxins from wildfire smoke are not just limited to particles and carbon monoxide from burning wood, but also contain VOCs and other chemical particles that are hazardous to one’s health. Wildfire smoke contaminates the air and also the land and water reservoirs. Pollutants can get on people’s clothing and footwear, causing them to end up inside people’s homes and even onto the food we eat. Many people assume that a particle mask will protect them from wildfire smoke and that no other measures are needed to protect them from exposure to toxins, but that is not the case.

How Home Caregivers Can Protect Seniors from Wildfires

Home caregivers have a critical role to play in protecting seniors and clients from wildfires. For many seniors, their home caregivers are their first lines of defense when it comes to their physical and mental wellbeing. In life and death situations like the California wildfires, a home caregiver’s role is even more important. With the right protocols and measures in place, home caregivers can help protect the seniors in their care. The following home care tips address all the areas in which seniors are affected by wildfires and the ways in which home caregivers can be of service.

1. Create an Emergency Wildfire Protocol

The main reason why seniors are the most likely to perish during wildfire evacuations is due to mobility issues. Many seniors simply cannot act fast enough or do not have the mobility required to evacuate. The first course of action a home caregiver can take is helping their clients create a wildfire evacuation protocol. A good plan of action will include all points of contacts that a senior can rely on for help, a list of phone numbers, a designated place to meet within the home, and a group of people enlisted who will commit to calling or showing up to check on seniors and to help them evacuate. Home caregivers who feel comfortable and up to the task can include themselves on this list, but only if it will not be of detriment to themselves or their own families.

2. Have a Go Bag

A “go bag” is a small backpack that is filled with all the survival essentials: a small first aid kit, medications, particle mask, water, list of emergency contacts, and other necessary items. Even in situations that do not require evacuation, having a go bag will provide instant access to much needed essentials, such as particle masks if the local air is contaminated from smoke that has travelled from a nearby wildfire. The security and peace of mind alone is worth having a go bag packed and prepared. It also makes it convenient for home caregivers if they are ever in a situation where they need to evacuate with their clients. Rather than having to scramble for life-saving essentials, everything will be in one place and ready to go.

3. Invest In An Air Filter

While air purifiers are not cheap, they are not expensive either. Many air purifier companies offer financing and monthly payment plans to make them more affordable. With the drafty houses that are typical of California, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area, sometimes the air inside can be just as hazardous as the air outside. A good air purifier will alert you to the quality of the air in your home and will also purify the air at the same time. In addition to protecting from wildfire toxins, the air purifier will also protect against mold, VOCs, and other hazardous particles that are harmful to the health of seniors. At a minimum — if it is within budget — a home caregiver can purchase an air purifier and use it to test the quality of air inside the homes of their clients.

4. Encourage Seniors to Wear a Particle Mask

Studies on long-term effects of air pollution have shown that the biggest consequences are damaged lungs and compromised immune systems. Short-term effects can lead to heart attacks and respiratory issues, such as asthma attacks. The main concern with wildfire smoke is the PM2.5 particles, which are so small that they easily travel into the lungs and bloodstream. The inflammation in the lungs can have an affect on the entire vascular and nervous systems. The best treatment against PM2.5 particles is always prevention. Home caregivers can help seniors purchase N95-N99 particle masks and can encourage their clients to wear them. The best way to get people to wear the masks is to lead by example, so home caregivers should take their own health into consideration, too.

5. Drink Purified Water

The toxins from wildfire smoke do not just stay in the air. There are thousands of compounds in wildfire smoke, and these compounds get into the water supply through various ways. There are several options for getting access to purified water. These include:

  • Bottled water

  • A reverse-osmosis water filtration system

  • A portable water bottle with a filter

Using a standard water filter such as a Brita Filter will not purify drinking water that has been contaminated by wildfire smoke. While people with healthy immune systems will most likely be able to recover from drinking contaminated water, seniors and people with compromised immune systems will not. Instead, drinking water will become like poison to them, resulting in hazardous and even deadly health problems.

6. Stay Inside

When air is filled with wildfire smoke, it is best to stay indoors. This may get boring for seniors who are used to be outside, but this is where home caregivers get to be creative. It’s time to think inside the box, so to speak, and come up with activities for seniors that will reduce boredom and encourage cognitive stimulation. Board games, music, storytelling, crafts, and baking are just some ideas for having fun indoors. Of course, it will be imperative to keep doors and windows closed and to minimize indoor air pollutants such as scented candles and dryer sheets.

7. Watch for Symptoms

Home caregivers understand that they are often the eyes and ears for their clients when it comes to monitoring their health. Symptoms from wildfire smoke include shortness of breath, runny nose, red eyes, wheezing, coughing, and chest pains. If home caregivers notice these symptoms or an increase of typical health symptoms in their clients, they should alert a medical professional.

The Value of Home Care Services

With just these seven tips in place, home caregivers can protect seniors from the effects of wildfire smoke and toxins. Home care services are valuable during wildfire season and all year round. If you are a senior looking for home care services, please reach out to Alegre Home Care.

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