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Travel Safety for Your Aging Parents

March 22, 2013

I was going to continue with posting questions you can ask your aging parents or elderly clients to get the dialogue started about aging health issues and end-of-life care, but an incident occurred the other night that I’d like  to engage with you about today. We’ll get back to the questions next week.

I live in a rural area and travel long distances on dark, windy, roads that run next to rivers in order to visit with my family and friends. Often these roads have no barriers to keep a driver from plunging into the river if a mistake is made in driving. For long stretches there are steep hillsides plunging right down to the road and then the river on the other side. Some stretches on these roads are shaded and never get touched by sunshine so ice is a common threat.

Earlier this week I decided to make the 310 mile trek along these roads to visit my youngest son and some friends. I left on a beautiful sunny morning, enjoyed a leisurely drive along back country roads along the rivers and arrived safely at my destination. I was feeling very blessed to see wildlife in abundance during the trip: elk, deer, antelope, big horn sheep, bald eagles, golden eagles, hawks, falcons, ospreys, raccoons, otters, and migrating birds. It was a glorious day for a long drive.

On the day of my return trip however, things weren’t so nice. I left and headed north with a weak sun shining, but dark clouds ahead. At one point I encountered hurricane force winds and pelting rain. After passing through that there was torrential rain as I headed along the foothills and up a mountain pass. At the top of the pass there were four inches of fresh snow on the ground with a steady snowfall continuing. On the other side of that pass there was rain for the remaining 140 miles home.

When there is heavy rain on the hillsides along the river roads there are frequent rock slides, mud slides, and snow avalanches. I had given myself enough time to make it home before dark, but with the bad weather I had been slowed down and the overcast skies led to an earlier darkness than I had anticipated.

I was driving along, listening to my favorite music, taking the curves on those windy roads at an appropriate speed given the slick roads when disaster struck. While navigating around a blind curve I encountered a rock slide in the roadway with some large rocks in my path. Swerving to avoid the rocks was out of the question because there was an oncoming car in the only lane I could swerve into. I had a choice:; hit the rocks or hit the oncoming car. There was no time to come to a full stop before hitting the rocks so I had no choice but to go over them.

POP! then thunk, thunk, thunk. I had punctured my right front tire. With darkness approaching and still 130 miles to go I was now in the position of finding a place to pull over and put on the small donut tire  as a spare. I had to drive another half mile before there was a turnout that was safe to pull over.  Then I started pulling out the gear to change the tire. There aren’t many travelers along that route at that time of day, but the first car that came along I flagged down.

Lucky me! There were two volunteer firefighters in that car and they were wonderful. They took over and within ten minutes had the little spare on the car and were headed back to clear the rocks off the road. They had been driving all day to get to this beautiful part of Idaho to do some steelhead fishing. Lucky for them they had been able to swerve into the other lane to avoid hitting the rocks and were generous enough to be concerned that others might not be able to do so. Because of that they not only took the time to change my tire, but they went back and cleared the road of the large rocks to make it safer for other travelers.

I expressed my thanks and wished them well with their steelhead fishing.  I hope they caught their limit and were happy on the beautiful rivers this state has to offer.

What does any of this have to do with your aging parents or elderly clients?

Of course, you’re probably asking why I am putting all this in a blog post about dialoguing with your aging parents or elderly clients.  The question I am going to pose back to you is: How safe and prepared are your aging parents or elderly clients when they travel? If an event like this happened to them would they be prepared?

Cell phones are rampant these days, but if one travels in an area without cell service there is no way to call for help or get a tow truck out to assist. Some remote areas have drastic changes in temperature once the sun is gone. Aging adults are often on scheduled medications and may be severely impacted if they miss a dose. Break downs of any kind require basic tools to attempt to fix the problem. Are your parents or elderly clients prepared? For that matter, are you and your family prepared?

Here’s my answer to the question of why I’m telling you this and how you can be ready for unexpected travel events.

Since I travel by car thousands of miles each year I have developed a system that keeps me comfortable and prepared in the event of an unexpected road disaster. Here’s a list of the most important things I feel every car traveler should have with them on a trip.

  • A duffel bag with an extra set of clothes for each person traveling in the vehicle in case of getting wet
  • A heavy jacket or coveralls with hat, gloves, and waterproof boots or overshoes for every person traveling in the vehicle
  • At least enough medication doses to cover a 48 hour period for anyone requiring prescribed medication
  • Snacks such as nuts, sunflower seeds, dried fruit, a little chocolate, dried meat, crackers and a jar of peanut butter
  • Packets of hot chocolate, tea, or coffee
  • At least a gallon of water (more is better)
  • A small can of sterno and a lighter or fire stick to light it in order to make some hot beverages or heat soup
  • A couple of cans of soup or beans
  • A sleeping bag for each person traveling
  • A spare tire with air in it (check the air in the spare before every long trip)
  • Tools for changing a tire
  • Knowledge of how to change the tire and a manual for the vehicle to use as a refresher
  • Motor oil, brake fluid, power steering fluid, washer fluid
  • Something to read (This may not seem essential, but if you’re stranded it’s best to take your mind off the problem rather than fret about it. Reading is a good distraction.)
  • Road flares
  • Tow chain
  • Toilet paper, hand wipes, tissues
  • A small first aid kit

The list could go on, but this is the basics. You make think this takes up alot of space, but I can usually throw all of this into a moderate sized tote and just put it in the trunk or the back of the station wagon or pick-up truck. Make sure the items are secured so that if there is a rollover there aren’t  objects bouncing around and causing a hazard. I leave these items in my vehicle at all times and restock any used items at the end of every trip.

I don’t like thinking about bad things happening, but I’ve had enough times where I’ve needed to use at least a few of these items in order to be safe and comfortable during a trip to know their value.

I hope this information is useful to you and your aging parents or elderly clients. Please share your stories and suggestions in the comments. Thanks for reading my blog.



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