We live in a world of chronic debilitating illnesses. Each of us is probably intimately acquainted with someone who has a chronic medical challenge. As you read, think of how these rising numbers might affect you and those you care about during any emergency situation. Here is what the National Health Council has to say about the number of people with chronic illness in the United States:
“Generally incurable and ongoing, chronic diseases affect approximately 133 million Americans, representing more than 40% of the total population of this country. By 2020, that number is projected to grow to an estimated 157 million, with 81 million having multiple conditions. About half of all adults have a chronic condition, and approximately 8 percent of children ages 5 to 17 were reported by their parents to have limited activities due to at least one chronic disease or disability.”
The United States has an aging population average. The birth rate is down, so over time, there will be a greater percentage of the population who will have challenges. Every year more people are living with two or more chronic illnesses, like diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune conditions, cancer or mental health issues. Looking at these statistics it is easy to see that a significant long-term grid-down scenario, serious large-scale weather-related event, an economic crash or any other momentous destructive action would cause many of us to face life-threatening challenges. This is an unpleasant reality.
Let me say right up front that not every disability or limitation will be covered in this article. That task is nigh impossible in a short paper. There are such diverse limitations and as many types of scenarios to prepare for. Some folks are not going to make it, although if people with disabilities prepare well they can have a better chance of making it than those who are healthy and totally unprepared and clueless. My point is to do what you can to make yourself as ready as you possibly can. Please accept that this article is limited in scope, but I hope that some of these prepping tips for the chronically ill and disabled will be helpful to you and the situations you face.
I have a very personal interest in this topic because I have someone who is very dear to me who has mobility challenges. We do all that we can to be prepared but have decided long ago that fear will not overcome the happiness we have. We prepare and innovate to make survival as viable as we can. That is all any of us can be expected to do.
In this article, I’d like to address possible ways to prepare to face these very real difficulties and focus on what the less able among us can effectively do right now that could lessen the adverse toll of an emergency situation. What proactive actions can be taken now?
We all must work within the boundaries of our own limitations to optimize our chances of survival in any given situation. We can’t all be those rugged individualists, long distance backpackers and athletic champions who seem completely ready for any full-scale emergency. We are all at some risk to develop some disability as we age or perhaps from an accident.
Here are just a few ideas that could help more people be active participants in the preparedness lifestyle even if they have chronic health restrictions.
The next three points may not be what you would expect to read in an article about chronic disabilities and preparedness. These aspects are often neglected. For this reason, it is important to bring them to the forefront and give them a forum for discussion.
1. FOCUS ON WHAT YOU ARE ABLE TO DO
It is easy to look at limitations and become pessimistic. If this is allowed to happen you lose, big time and so does your family.
Instead, focusing on things that you are able to do can bring greater and longer lasting rewards than you might think. Many, but definitely not all, of the chronically ill are older people, hence more experienced in life skills as well as being able to improvise when there is a need.
Share your skills with the less experienced preppers around you. If you know how to build simple structures, do simple car repair work, open flame cooking, canning, gardening, foraging, knitting, mending, woodworking, cooking from scratch, firearms expertise, tending livestock or have any other skills, there are those who would appreciate learning these things from an experienced willing person.
Start with your own family members; invite like-minded neighbors and friends as the occasion arises. It can be done one on one or in a small group. Teaching can be accomplished from a wheelchair or even from a bedside. Be creative. One individual teaching another is the way it has been done for ages. This builds new skills and bonds people together; both are needed when life gets hard!
Make it known that you are willing to teach someone. Let your neighbors know. Put a note on a local store bulletin board. “Free (blank) classes now forming,… etc.” I actually know an older lady who did this and was surprised at the positive responses and calls she received. So far she has taught over 2 dozen women how to do canning and dehydrating and now those women are adding so many new things to their food storage supplies.
You may not be able to do all that you used to do but you can still be a very useful resource for your family and those within your community.
2. KEEP UP WITH LOCAL, NATIONAL AND WORLD EVENTS
Do this with a media source you feel you can trust. Not every event is important but there are trends that can be followed. An older example might be; what is happening in Venezuela? What was the sequence of events that lead to food shortages, economic collapse, corrupt leadership and violent mobs in the streets? Sequentially following the happenings in this country and around the world can lead to a better understanding of societal changes and how we may be a part of the solution and/or how we can prepare for a collapse in the possibility that we experience similar conditions in our own country.
Using this information within the circle of your family and friends could possibly be the edge that saves lives. This service might be something that a person with limited abilities and with more time on their hands could do keep their loved ones focused on how best to prepare based on global unrest as well as turmoil within our own borders. When this is done, the chronically ill or disabled person is using the skills they have to improve what is within their power. Being watchful of what is happening around us is essential to evaluating possible upheaval and being prepared to meet the challenge or to escape quickly if needed. It has the added value of bringing purpose into the life of someone who might otherwise feel unable to contribute.
Stephen Spielberg has said, “People have forgotten how to tell a story. Stories don’t have a middle and an end any more. They usually have a beginning that never stops beginning.”
Throughout history, storytelling has been a way to pass along cultural and family traditions which bonds us and creates a sense of belonging to something protective and nurturing. Unfortunately, storytelling has become a lost art. Bring it back!
Sharing stories with your family can build strength and unity. Children naturally ask for stories. They like to hear what you did when you were a little girl or little boy. What an opportunity this can be to share family history stories and build loving unity! They may ask, “Grandpa, what was it like when you were a little boy”? “Mommy, tell me a story about when I was little.” Using this time to share ways you lived and things you did, builds a sense of continuity, family history, and stability in an ever more frenzied world.
I know that sharing family history and personal stories was a big part of my childhood and it is interesting for me to realize how many life lessons I have learned through those fun sharing times and how many seeds were planted in my mind about what was important and useful in family relationships. If you include long-forgotten skills that could enhance family and individual preparedness, even more! Carry this one step further and if possible get outside with them. Teach simple fire building skills, show kids how to stack wood and what kinds of wood burns well, how to use a hatchet to make kindling from untreated old lumber. Perhaps teach them about making a lean-to shelter. If there are older children involved they can do the physical work while being instructed in the “how to’s” from a wheelchair.
If this is too much for the chronically ill person or there is a long distance separating them from loved ones then make an audio or video story or instructive DVD or CD. By doing any of these suggested projects or other things that are important to you, or to them, you are sharing life skills and prep skills that can make your loved one more resilient now and throughout life, no matter what comes their way.
What are a few things preppers with chronic conditions can do to become more self-reliant?
1. KNOW ALL YOU CAN ABOUT YOUR CONDITION
Medical healthcare workers mainly doctors, are given little time to spend with a patient. They are often limited by insurance companies, corporately owned hospitals or clinics that focus on the bottom line and not the patient. I personally know two good doctors who have left medicine early because they didn’t feel they could help their patients in the way they would have liked to help. If you have a doctor you can rely on and who spends the time needed to understand your illness or disease then you are indeed fortunate. Even so, they are limited to one area of medicine.
There is so much more you can learn about through new research and alternative modalities for your condition. Take the time to do that and you may find ways that could help you live a longer, more productive life. Find online forums and talk with others about what they are doing for preparedness. You don’t have to do this directly. You might ask something like, “How do you make sure you have enough medication on hand for a heavy snowstorm?” or “What do you use as an alternate source of power in the case of a storm power outage”? If you need a nebulizer machine or oxygen for breathing, or a small refrigerator to keep your insulin at the right temperature you may find unique ideas on a forum site. People are happy to share, and you can share your knowledge with others.
Whatever you do, do this: Know your condition inside and out. Check out new treatments and medical equipment on a diseases national website. Connect with others who have dealt with this condition for a longer time and may be more knowledgeable. There is so much to be learned from others who are willing to share their unique ways of dealing with their struggles and limitations. Connect with them.
2. STAY AS FIT AS POSSIBLE
Most chronic conditions allow and even benefit from regular exercise. Of course, this is dictated by your personal situation. Don’t neglect this area of preparedness. Although you may not meet the typical prepper stereotype of a rugged hiker, biker and mountain climber be assured that most preppers do not meet that standard either. Do what you can to keep a regular exercise routine. It will add more purpose and strength to your life.
Diet: Many chronic illnesses have some type of special diet i.e.: diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, chronic kidney disease, autoimmune issues, allergies etc. Don’t think that this is an impossible task to prep for. It is not. The important thing to note here is to store foods that are appropriate to your condition. Don’t be afraid to talk with others who have chronic challenges. This is how good ideas rise to the top and problems can be resolved.
Keep to the maxim, “Store what you eat and eat what you store”. Store what you need to keep the chronic condition under control. Doing otherwise could quickly lead to death with some diseases.
3. HAVE A PLAN
Since different illnesses have specific needs there is not a ‘one plan fits all’ guide. Gather with your family, friends or specific neighbors and ask for their input. Brainstorm about what could be done if certain emergency situations would develop. Just doing this is an important first step in making sure others are aware of your needs and possible limitations. Remember, quite a few of your neighbors will have at least one limiting disability or disease. Not all limitations are visible.
If you are comfortable with this, make the police and fire department aware of your mobility, medical or cognitive concerns in case they need to be summoned. This is helpful even without the “regular” preppers scenarios. There were times in my husband’s firefighting career that made knowing beforehand what conditions the unit might encounter at a particular address a lifesaving experience.
An example of that was a brittle diabetic patient who frequently experienced diabetic comas. Whenever emergency services received a 911 call from this address they knew right away what might be needed and little time was wasted upon arrival trying to figure out the source of the problem.
Unfortunately, if this individual faced any kind of disaster scenario his chance of survival was zero to none.
As long as you make plans in advance of a disaster you are more likely to survive if you are well prepared with the basics specific to your limitations. Alternate plans, based on limitations may have to be made. Take the time to consider “what ifs”. It might provide a clearer picture and allow time to make lifesaving plans right now.
4. BE PREPARED TO DEFEND YOURSELF
As sad as this thought is there are people who would quickly take advantage of a person who they thought would be an easy target. If they see any mobility assistive device you automatically become vulnerable. You must be prepared to defend yourself. How you might choose to do this is a matter of personal choice. I would choose a firearm. (But of course, this option may not be appropriate for certain mental disorders) Whatever you do, first get the requisite training. Find an accessible shooting range and a good instructor and practice until you feel comfortable with your defensive skills. Make sure you purchase a firearm that is right for you. Your firearms instructor can help in directing you to the right choice options for your skills and limitations. You cannot allow a person with evil intent to get close to you. If your limitations don’t allow for escape I am not sure that there are any other feasible options for the defense of your life other than a firearm.
A few examples of limitations with possible plans:
Mobility: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that “The most common functional disability type was a mobility limitation – defined as serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs — reported by one in eight adults, followed by disability in thinking and/or memory, independent living, vision, and self-care”.
If there are mobility problems that make walking out of the question, then sheltering in place or having a bugout site closer to home might be an option. Another might be, if possible to evacuate even before the first wave of people decide that is the best option available. If you plan ahead you can have the right vehicle with the right equipment and bug out supplies. Be prepared to move on a moments notice.
Visually Impaired: You may want to consider a Seeing Eye dog. This is particularly helpful if you spend much of your time alone. Having a dog can provide greater mobility and self-sufficiency, companionship and safety.
Contact the National Federation for the Blind at www.nfb.org/contact-us. Some people find their ability to function is greatly enhanced by certain newly developed devices and the Federation is up on all of the latest options for giving the visually impaired an opportunity to function on a higher level than has ever before been available to those with visual challenges. They can direct you to your state’s Federation for the Blind website and provide more information that you might need.
Mental Illnesses: Since this encompasses a wide range of illnesses it is difficult to discuss in depth. It is also more difficult to prepare for situations that can be perceived as out of the ordinary or scary when dealing with many mental illnesses. It is important to understand the disease and the long-term expectations, both for the person with the illness and the caregiver or for family members.
Here are a few generalizations along with some resource books available.
- Most people with mental illness do better when they feel accepted and loved. (Isn’t that true of all of us?)
- It must be realized that expectations can change quickly. When a patient is doing well, both the patient and the loved ones may feel that “all is well”, when actually the mood, actions, and thoughts of a person with mental illness may change day to day, even hour by hour when the disease is exacerbated. This can present a terrible dilemma in any scary or altered situation. If possible and when appropriate take time to include him/her in discussions regarding disaster or preparedness planning when things are calm…remember, only do this if you and the doctor deem it appropriate. Stressors can induce mental episodes so use discretion.
- Usually, a family member knows as much about the loved one’s illness as the doctor does, because the doctor only sees a snapshot in the life of the patient. If a loved one has been caring for the “patient” for a long time they can often predict mood changes and medication effectiveness very well.
- Do the best you can and don’t feel guilty because you can’t make everything better. The guilt can cause stress and eventually burn out. Hovering over a patient every move can smother improvements. They need space to think and feel just like everyone needs that freedom.
- It is often helpful for the loved one as well as the caregiver to join support groups. You are not alone. Realizing this can be a true safety net for both.
Diabetes: Here is a site that could be useful for diabetic preppers and their families. It explains how a person with diabetes should prepare for the worst case scenario, especially about the specific shelf life and storage conditions of insulin, stockpiling test strips, non-insulin diabetic medications, and syringes and why using expired insulin will kill you.
It is so important to plan ahead, discuss what might be done in various scenarios and even do mock trials or dry-runs to make sure plans are feasible. This can bring to light any possible glitches to the plan so you can factor in other workable options. Waiting till the last minute can be a fatal mistake.
The goal is to be as prepared as possible no matter how things are in your life or how crazy or dangerous the world becomes. I hope that some of the suggestions presented here have inspired updating of personal and family self-reliance goals and an evaluation of where you might be along this path. This applies to all of us no matter of physical or mental boundaries. You might also want to check out our articles about prepping during pregnancy, or how to get your kids involved in this lifestyle.
Every small step you take to be better prepared to meet challenges will be a step forward and will enhance your chances of survival.
Donna takes joy in being a wife / mother / grammy / forager / self-reliance seeker / food preserver / chicken chaser / herb and essential oil user / ham radio operator / spelunker / outdoor enjoyer / raw milk drinker / social media avoider / genealogy searcher / scripture studier / cub master / docent / reader / writer / learner / teacher / helper and faithful friend.