Seniors must take good care of themselves in the aftermath of disaster

As submitted for publication in Courier News, October 1999

As a senior, do you still feel distressed from losses you suffered as a result of tropical storm Floyd? Our entire community was hit hard by this disaster. It flooded our homes, destroyed cherished belongings, put our safety at risk, contaminated our water, and resulted in a variety of medical problems. At best, it was the cause of concern for those we care about. At worst, it was the source of devastating personal loss. Everyone has felt at least some emotional strain. However, for those people who were most directly affected, this strain is likely to continue for several months as they work to rebuild their lives.

The best way to begin reducing the strain you may be feeling is to understand what responses to expect from yourself and others. Some common reactions are:

• Emotional distress in response to reminders of the event

• Confusion, difficulty making decisions

• Mood swings, irritability

• Anxiety and Fear

• Depression or numbness

• Sleep problems, nightmares

• Changes in appetite

• Diminished interest in work, social, or family activities

When you recognize these reactions in yourself, there are some proven ways to alleviate the distress. You can:

• Talk about what happened & how you feel

• Rest

• Exercise

• Accept the help offered by others

• Find time to enjoy yourself

Although everyone affected by a disaster struggles with its aftermath, seniors need to be particularly aware of their bodies and their health. As a senior, you should care for your body by eating well and getting enough rest. Any physical symptoms should be checked out by a physician. In addition, you may struggle with increased confusion or memory difficulties. It is important for you to remind yourself that these increased difficulties are common and are time-limited. You can help yourself adapt by asking for help, providing yourself with reminders, and establishing a normal routine as soon as possible.

If you or a loved one experiences severe symptoms, or you feel your symptoms are persisting for an extended period of time, you could benefit from professional help. Often, it only takes a few sessions for a therapist to work with you to alleviate the distress caused by a traumatic event. If you are suffering, you really have nothing to lose by reaching out for help.

The Recorder Newspapers has over 250,000 readers and publishes weekly editions in 19 newspapers, which cover Morris, Somerset, Essex and Hunterdon counties of New Jersey.

Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD
Basking Ridge, NJ