Hurricane season, especially this hurricane season -- the first following the life-altering Katrina -- can be a particularly tense time for people who feel powerless to control the weather or the preparations for staying safe in the face of a hurricane -- namely children and the elderly. Because Katrina was so traumatic to so many, with its effects still lingering around the city in the forms of debris piles, damaged homes and shuttered schools and businesses, it stands to reason that the approach of any hurricane may cause a high degree of anxiety in kids and seniors who have to depend on others to keep them safe.
Dr. Jason Wuttke, a pediatric psychiatrist at Ochsner Health System, offers some tips for alleviating the fear and apprehension:
• Have a plan. Just like a fire drill, kids need to know there is a plan in place. Kids will feel relieved if they know the adults in their lives have taken precautions to protect them.
• Explain the plan. As the storm season approaches there could be signs that kids, just like everyone else, are feeling mounting anxiety. Some of the tension can be eased if you explain the plan and give them clear, succinct, step-by-step information that is easy for them to understand.
• Manage your own anxiety. Kids often look to their parents' feelings to determine their own, especially in a crisis situation. It is important for parents to manage their own anxiety -- and get help to do it if they need to -- so they won't pass that anxiety onto their children. Kids whose parents are experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms are at a much higher risk for experiencing PTSD themselves. Calm, supportive reactions from parents in anticipation of an evacuation or crisis will go a long way toward alleviating stress responses in their kids.
• Maintain a routine. While it is anything but routine to evacuate for a hurricane, it is important to try and maintain similar meal times, bed times, etc. for kids. Establishing a routine once you're settled away from home will help children feel as normal as is possible.
• Stay stimulated. It is also important during an evacuation to make sure kids are mentally and physically stimulated even though they are not in school. You don't want them sitting around allowing unnecessary anxiety to build.
• Monitor media overload. Parents need information, but 24/7 TV news usually is going overboard and can be overwhelming and anxiety-provoking, especially for younger children.
All of the same points hold true for the elderly as well. In addition, there are some extra steps to be taken for the elderly.
• Prepare to shorten the trip. Some elderly may not be able to endure an especially long evacuation. Be prepared to break up the driving and possibly stop along the way to your final destination.
• Know their medical needs and history. It is important to prepare these records ahead of time, because in a high-stress situation they may not be able to administer their normal treatment themselves and may need an extended supply of their medication.
• Convince them to leave. Probably the most frustrating part of dealing with the elderly in an evacuation is that some will refuse to leave. The conditions inside the city will always be worse than outside for the elderly, especially because they are more dependent on electricity and gas. Many of the deaths from last year were caused by heat exhaustion from the lack of air conditioning. If a senior is being stubborn, plead with them and explain that conditions in the city could be quite uncomfortable and even unsafe.
• Have a Plan B and C. It is a good idea to have backup plans in place to avoid stress if your original plan goes awry.
- Explain the plan. As the storm season approaches there could be signs that kids, just like everyone else are feeling mounting anxiety. Some of the tension can be eased if you explain the plan and give them clear, succinct, step-by-step information that is easy for them to understand.
- Manage your own anxiety. Kids often look to their parents' feelings to determine their own, especially in a crisis situation. It is important for parents to manage their own anxiety and get help to do it if they need to - so they won't pass that anxiety onto their children.