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A Caregiver’s Nuclear Option

nuclearoptionAs a certified geriatric care manager I have written a fair number of posts about distance caregiving.  With some of these posts, I have offered tips on the paperwork that should be in place in case of an emergency as well as how one can help prepare a loved one for a medical or weather emergency.  Earlier this month, a national report was released that offers guidelines for an emergency I have not addressed yet: What should one be prepared to do in the event of a nuclear incident?  In the spirit of helping any of you distance caregivers to make sure your loved ones are prepared for an improvised nuclear device (IND) or a dirty bomb, here are some suggestions from the people who study these things.

First of all, an IND is an actual nuclear weapon stolen or illegally fabricated by terrorists to be detonated in a populated area.  A dirty bomb is a conventional explosive that is used to disperse nuclear material over a substantial area.  Both result in radioactivity being spread into the atmosphere, but the first also carries the added risk of the intense nuclear blast itself.

As a caregiver, help your older loved one to understand that their first response should not be to evacuate.  The first response following a nuclear event should be to get inside their homes and stay there.  Since radiation exposure is the big threat, your loved one should listen to the news to get instruction on where to go, if anywhere.  It is important to stay calm and wait while experts determine where the radioactivity will be dispersing so that any evacuations can actually take people away from – not into the path of – the fallout.  This also will keep unnecessary traffic off the roads so that federal response teams can mobilize.

Even if your loved one lives 100 miles away from the site of an IND, it will be important to stay inside and off the roads.  Radiation will travel on the winds, and people who have been at the site of an event will doubtless be traveling to get to a safer location which could include your older loved one’s community.

As you can imagine, health care resources will be taxed to the limit by a disaster like this.  In fact, federal estimates suggest that as many “worried well” will be lining up at hospitals as those with “moderate injuries.”  Encourage your loved ones to monitor their personal well-being and not over react.  And the best way to keep calm in such an event will be to make a plan ahead of time.  Check out what the Institute of Medicine says about preparation by clicking here.

Charlotte Bishop is a certified Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago.  Please email your questions to



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