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Disaster Preparedness for Seniors and the Elderly

Avatar for Gaye Levy Gaye Levy  |  Updated: July 4, 2019
Disaster Preparedness for Seniors and the Elderly

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grandmother-1This week I would like to explore some of the special preparedness needs of the senior and elderly members of our families and communities.  At first blush, you may be saying, “Yes, I understand that there are elderly people but how would their needs be any different than mine?”.

That is a great question and certainly one that I have asked myself.  But consider this:  the elderly are less mobile and far less likely to be able to evacuate on their own.  Their eating habits may be more finicky and, for health reasons, restricted.  The need for life-sustaining prescription medications and medical devices increases with age, and perhaps most difficult of all, the a sense of fear may result in profound depression as the familiar and comforting world around them has changed.

For those embarking upon the family preparedness lifestyle, it is important to consider the special needs of elderly adults and to help educate and assist them now, before they experience a true SHTF situation caused by natural, man made or economic disasters.

The checklist below is designed to be shared one on one with members of our older adult population (our moms and dads, grandparents, and neighbors).  Review this list and use it as a guideline for initiating a discussion with these important members of our community.

1.  Prepare Now for a Sudden Emergency

In the event of a disaster, local and rescue workers will do their best to arrive quickly but there may be physical or other impediments to a swift recovery effort.  The key is to prepare now for a sudden emergency.  Here are some things you can do:

  • Assemble a disaster kit that includes food, water, first aid items, a flashlight, batteries and some cash.
  • Arrange to have someone check on you on a periodic basis.
  • Plan and practice the best escape routes from your home.
  • Get to know the types of emergencies most likely to occur in your geographical area and find a safe place to shelter in your home if disaster strikes.
  • Create window signs that you can use to signal the need for assistance.
  • Post emergency phone numbers close to your phone.  Do not rely on your memory.  If you require special equipment (medical devices, oxygen, wheel chairs), keep a list and the location of operating instructions handy so that rescue workers can find them.
  • Be prepared to defend yourself.  Get some pepper spray or even some aerosol hair spray to squirt at an intruder who is trying to loot or otherwise steal your stuff.

2.  Take Care of Your Medical Needs

  • Assemble some spare medical supplies in an easy-to-carry, transportable container such as a backpack, shoulder bag, or duffle bag.  Include a 7 to 14 days supply of prescription medicines and be sure to include written instructions regarding the dosage, and a list of allergies, if any.
  • Pack up an extra pair of glasses (even if they are old) and hearing aid batteries
  • Label your stuff.  This includes your bags or other containers, walkers, canes, wheelchairs or anything else that you are likely to need.
  • Make a copies of your medical insurance and Medicare cards and include them with your medical supplies along with a listing of your doctors.  Also include a list of the style and serial number of medical devices such as pacemakers.  Share copies of these documents with a trusted family member or friend.

3.  Prepare for a Possible Evacuation

  • Learn how to shut off water, gas and electricity.
  • If you can, take your pets with you.  But, also keep in mind that pets may not allowed in shelters.  Ask!  If not, you will need to allow for sufficient food and water for an extended period.  Put a sign in the window indicating that there are pets inside.
  • Leave a note taped to the refrigerator or elsewhere indicating when you left and where you are going.

4.  Assess Your Physical Limitations and Coordinate a Plan for Assistance in Advance

  • Contact a friendly neighbor in advance and make them aware that you have limitations that will preclude your evacuation in an emergency.  Ask for their assistance in helping you or in contacting family members.
  • In the event of an evacuation, wear warm clothing (even if it is hot outside) and sturdy shoes.  You can always peel away the extra clothing later if you are too warm.
  • Make sure that someone you know has an extra key to your home and knowledge of where you keep your emergency supplies.
  • If you don’t already have one, get a cell phone.  In most recent disasters, cell phone service was active long before land lines became functional.

Younger Caring For Elders

Caring for the elderly often falls to older children but not always. There are some things that younger people can do to help encourage a better level of preparedness.

1. Encourage physical activities

While mobility and disabilities can prevent a lot of physical activities if there are any exercises or things that are doable then encourage this. Even those that are confined to a wheel chair or their bed part of the time can lift weights. Beds can be fitted with bars that can be used for exercices to gain strength. My father had to do this while recovering from an amputation and it helped him a lot. Extra strength helps you get through any situation.

2. Respect their wishes and try to understand their point of view without allowing them to be too discouraged.

I had one reader write and tell me that they know that if things get bad then they want to be left behind and not be a burden on the younger members of their family that have a lot of life ahead of them. This is a tough one. While I can see how someone would think this you do want to encourage your elders realize they are loved and that you want them to try and that you are there for them. If you make them feel even more like a burden, they could be more likely to give up. Patience and caring go a long way. Part of making them not think they are a burden id preparing a good disaster plan and having their living space ready for it.

Avoiding Falls

There are a lot of situations where an elder person might want to go outside or think they should try to get somewhere. Ice storms and other inclement weather can increase the chance of falls dramatically regardless of age. Unfortunately falls are one of the main causes of seniors finding themselves in care facilities or a lengthy hospital visit.

Some people are very independent and are resistant to the idea of anyone “taking care of them” because they are a grown adult and they feel bad if someone else is helping them more than they are comfortable with. Try to stop by and check in on elders during an event if you can. If you make sure they have basic needs met then they are going to be less likely to go off on their own.

Back up power

Some medical equipment is more power dependent. If there is a major outage this can mean that you have limited battery back up. There are a lot of ways to have power back up. First you need to know how much power the equipment consumes. Generator battery banks can be a major help. Keeping a power bank like the Goal Zero Yeti 400 plugged in and charged can make a big difference during an emergency and it allows a cushion of safety during times when medical services may be struggling to keep up with the needs of people in the area.

Easily prepared foods and accessible water

During an emergency it is important to have water and food needs met. Ready to eat items are a good idea. While freeze dried foods where you just add water are not inexpensive, they can make life a lot easier on seniors. Those that are disabled may even want to keep some food and water in their nightstand. It doesn’t have to be a lot. Just a few light meals worth and a liter or two of water.

Lots of lights

Seniors need to have lighting that they can use with no electricity from the grid. Good lighting means safety and that can make all the difference. There have been cases of seniors that were terrified to get out of bed because of it being night time and the power being out so they were in darkness. Even a small LED flashlight by the bed and in the bathroom can take care of this problem.

If you have aging relatives, flashlights are a good gift. So many people don’t realize the importance until they are in a situation where they need it.

Go over your plan and check supplies occasionally

No one remembers everything and it is easy for supplies to get misplaced or used up. Memory loss is not a pleasant thing to have to deal with but it happens often as someone ages. Also we all get rusty or unclear about things we haven’t had to think about in awhile. You need to review disaster preparedness plans and take inventory of supplies.

Some older people are good about staying ahead of their food supply and household needs while others are more likely to wait until supplies are low. My husband and I regularly go through my Dad’s supplies and also ask him if he has specific items. I sure love him but he really doesn’t tell me if he is getting low on some things until he is out. We have got to where we just check ourselves.

Lessons learned

I hope I have not sounded too judgmental about elderly thoughts and habits but after taking care of my grandmother and now my father, all with a lot of help from my husband, I have learned a few things and what to watch out for. I will probably be just as stubborn or worse if I am lucky enough to reach old age too!

In addition to having a discussion with the older adults in you life, I would like to suggest that you help them gather supplies and educate them regarding the proper storage of extra food and water.  You know what I am talking about:  keep your supplies sealed and keep them cool.

You also might want to consider putting a Bug Out Bag together to give to them as gift, or to take them shopping to purchase the necessary supplies.

Perhaps most important of all, you can start to educate the elderly so that when and if the time comes, they are less fearful and less inclined to panic or worst case, shut down completely.  I highly recommend that you download this free  booklet, Red Cross Disaster Preparedness for Seniors By Seniors which was written a group of older adults who experienced a two-week power outage during a ice storm.  It is excellent.

If you have not done so already, please be sure to like Backdoor Survival on Facebook to be updated every time there is an awesome new article, news byte, or free survival, prepping or homesteading book.

In addition, when you sign up to receive email updates you will receive a free, downloadable copy of my e-book The Emergency Food Buyer’s Guide.

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8 Responses to “Disaster Preparedness for Seniors and the Elderly”

  1. On self defense for the elderly, the 20 ft range wasp and hornet spray will do a MUCH better job than hair spray and is not flammable

  2. My mom has her head in the sand and thinks I am bonkers for be it…we prep for her, will move her here (had to last summer when we evacuated her for a fire)..and have an evac list made for her house in case we need to go get her. What is important to her is not necessarily the essentials, and we have that on her list too, but WAY down after meds, personal supplies, food, clothes, was a REAL eye opener after having to get her last summer. Remember elderly will NOT in many cases think clearly in an emergency. I had to tell her one thing at a time to put in her car while I was on my way to get her, then she would call be back and I would tell her the 2nd prepared to be very patient, work within their limitations and repeat things a LOT!

    • You did not indicate how old she is but sounds like a bit of shock over the situation as well as “disaster denial” which is very common. She is lucky to have you to prep for her and take care of her needs.

  3. My parents are pretty good about storing water and food, and keeping extra medications on hand, but they are not so keen on possibly having to evacuate. They have lived in their home for years and years and have no intention of leaving. They don’t even like to travel very far. So having the evacuation kit will be a “hard sell” but something they have to consider. Thank you for posting on an important subject.

    • Many seniors are practical people who see the wisdom in what they feel are reasonable concerns. Instead of trying to sell the need for bugging out, try saying it’s an travel bag in case of (insert feasible regional weather disaster such as hurricane or tornado) or prolonged power outage or more recently, civil unrest. If they see it as temporary such as a hotel or Red Cross shelter, they are likely to cooperate and it will be easier to get them in the car if the time comes.

  4. I’m 59. My mom is 80. Our plan for her is that if things go sour , my brothers, who live near her, will go get her and take her to my middle brothers retreat in the Sierra Nevadas. She has her medical issues under control and we will take care of the rest.

    • One of the more difficult issues that some of us face is having a parent who is in denial and refuses to consider that something disastrous could happen. It is almost as though we have to prepare them behind their backs. I am trying to help by starting with one small task at a time – such as gathering extra medications and copies of documents – then moving on to something else a week or two later.

      — Gaye

    • Gaye,
      Since I was a young woman raising my 3 children I have had the need of prepping, then it was more on economics and learning a more sustainable and healthier way of life. Now I am nearly 51 and I preassure my mother who is 80 into preparing, and having things on hand that will be needed. We are both now on a limited income, but have a nice little cache that will keep the 2 of us and my children their husband & wifes and children for 6 months. It hasnt been easy, but it can be done. Our only problem is getting extra medication for my mother. Your information is a God send! Thank you for all you do!

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