In the Bay Area, summer can bring scorching heat or heavy blankets of fog—sometimes both in a single weekend. When we think about preparing for summer, we often focus on preventing heat-related concerns like dehydration or heat illness. But we also need to consider other summertime challenges like wildfires and rolling blackouts triggered by heatwaves. Here are some tips to help you keep your senior loved one safe this summer.
Wildfires are a frequent occurrence in California. The smoke can travel for hundreds of miles, so even if your loved one isn’t in danger from the fire itself, they can still be affected by poor air quality. Smoke can create a number of health risks, especially for vulnerable groups like seniors or people with respiratory conditions. According to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, heart attacks and strokes are more common when the air quality index rises above 100.
Here are some tips for keeping your older loved one safe when the air is smoky:
- Avoid exposure. It may seem obvious, but the best way to stay safe from smoke exposure is to stay away from the smoke. If your loved one is able to safely travel away from the region affected by smoke, encourage them to do so.
- Keep doors and windows closed. If they can’t leave the area, seniors should stay inside, where air quality is better. Suggest they run an air conditioner if they have one, to recirculate indoor air, or invest in a portable air purifier.
- Use an N95 mask. If your loved one must go outside, ask them to wear a properly fitting N95 mask. Bandanas, surgical masks, and cloth masks do not provide enough protection from wildfire smoke particles.
You may be able to help prepare them if they’re at risk of evacuation. For example, they should have an extra supply of their medications on hand, and a plan for how and where they would evacuate to if it becomes necessary. California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection offers excellent information here.
During a heatwave, the power grid can become overloaded, triggering rolling blackouts. Typically the blackouts only last a few hours, but it’s important to be prepared in case they extend longer than expected.
Kate Blank, Clinical Care Manager at Seniors At Home, stresses the importance of preparedness. “It’s so important for seniors to plan ahead for emergencies, and to lean on people around them for support. Having the supplies they need in case of an emergency can make the difference between a challenging day and a catastrophic one.” Seniors At Home’s care management team can help make sure clients have a safe plan in place, and check that they have appropriate emergency supplies at the ready.
Here’s how to make sure your older loved one is prepared for blackouts:
- Safe drinking water. Ideally, your loved one should have a three days supply of drinking water.
- Emergency kit. A disaster kit should include dried or canned food, battery-powered flashlights and extra batteries, a first aid kid, hand sanitizer, and prescription medicines. Cash is also good to have on hand if possible.
- Social safety net. Make sure your loved one knows how to get in touch with neighbors or friends who live nearby, in case you can’t get to them to check on them in person. Post a paper copy of the contacts’ phone numbers where your loved one can easily access it.
- Back up plan for medical devices. If your loved one relies on a medical device that requires electricity, such as a chair lift, ventilator, or home dialysis equipment, make sure they have a backup battery. PG&E offers a portable battery program to qualifying customers who rely on power for medical devices.
Rolling blackouts and wildfire smoke can present challenges during the summer, but a little preparation will help ensure your loved one’s safety and comfort.
Seniors At Home provides short term and long-term in-home care. If you or your loved one needs extra support at home to stay safe during the summer months or all year long, reach out for a free consultation—415-449-3700 or [email protected].