Did you know that adults over 65 are the most vulnerable of all age groups when disaster strikes?
Older Adults Suffer Most in Disasters
For example, nearly 71 percent of the victims of Hurricane Katrina were older than 60.47 percent were 75 and older. That’s no fluke. Older adults have a higher overall death rate in disasters than any other age group.
The reason isn’t hard to see. Elderly folk are more vulnerable to conditions that make disaster environments doubly dangerous, including:
- Mobility issues
- Cognitive impairment
- Lack of transportation
- Dependence on assistive devices and medications
That last point presents an especially massive hurdle to a surprising number of Americans. 2.5 million Medicare beneficiaries depend on electronic equipment for daily living. For them, a standard emergency like a power outage can become life threatening in a matter of hours.
The Elderly Are More Often Unprepared
Even though some of the most serious preppers we know are 65 or older, as a group, older adults are dangerously underprepared.
Consider the following statistics based on adults ages 50–80 from The National Poll on Healthy Aging:
- Only 55 percent reported having a 7-day supply of food and water on hand.
- Only 45 percent had a portable battery or solar cell phone charger, and 43 percent had a battery-powered or hand-crank radio.
- Among the 9 percent who use essential medical equipment that requires electricity, only 25 percent had an alternative power source for that equipment.
- Just 2 in 5 older adults (40 percent) reported having conversations with family or friends about what to do if they need to evacuate on short notice.
- Less than half of respondents said they had signed up to receive alerts through their community’s emergency warning system (such as a smartphone app or messaging service).
Now factor in the huge increase of family members acting as caregivers for older adults, and many American households require a little extra when it comes to emergency preparedness.
This is why it’s critical to talk to older loved ones about potential emergencies well before they occur.
How to Handle the Conversation
The first thing you have to do is get your older loved one on board, and that may be a challenge.
The best way to approach the conversation is to be direct.
First, explain that you want to help them prepare for an emergency because you love and care about them.
Next, tell them the truth. Disasters are inevitable. According to American Psychological Association:
The number of disasters is on the rise. Almost daily, reports of wild fires, industrial explosions, extensive power outages, earthquakes, hurricanes, and tornadoes dominate the national news. Older adults are more at risk during all phases of a disaster, from life-threatening challenges during evacuation to negative psychological consequences during the recovery period.
Then, help them plan, shop, and prepare.
Get Technology for Communication
One of the ways many older people are unprepared is technology usage.
As much as technology can be a nuisance, it can be extremely helpful in an emergency, such as receiving a tornado warning notification on your cell phone. Unfortunately, many older adults do not take advantage of modern technology for emergency preparedness. For example, most don’t sign up for emergency warning systems that give life-saving information during disasters.
In addition to making sure older loved ones have a means of communication (such as a cell phone and social media), make sure they have emergency management apps downloaded and have signed up for their community emergency warning system.
[Related Read: How Can Your Facebook Be Used for Emergency Communications]
Create an Emergency Plan
Not having a plan for elderly loved ones will place a bigger burden on you and could put you and them at risk trying to help.
Only 2 in 5 older adults have had conversations with family members about what they’d do in an emergency.
Even if it is uncomfortable to talk to an older adult, such as your parent, about their plans for an emergency, it is critical.
Instead of making it a big deal, simply take some time to go over the basics.
For instance, talk about how they would get in touch with you, where they would go, and what things they would need.
This simple discussion will help you create an emergency plan.
The emergency plan should include:
- A communication plan. Write out important phone numbers (local police, doctors, neighbors, etc.) and how you can contact them. Have a group chat with the family members already started, so older family members can easily reach out for help.
- An escape plan. Identify space spots and meeting places for your loved one. Designate a meeting place, a close-by meeting place, and an out-of-town location. Additionally, make sure your loved one is familiar with escape routes from their home.
- A health plan. You must have a plan for medicines and prescriptions that your loved on will need in an emergency.
- A plan for packing. Pack an emergency kit (or go-bag) with essentials.
Build an Emergency Kit
Preparedness is key to survival. That means stocking up on supplies that will help you overcome various disaster scenarios.
Use the following list to help you stock up your older loved one’s survival kit.
- Long-term emergency food – Stock up on easy-to-prepare foods that have a long shelf life.
- Water – In addition to stocking up on water bottles, consider providing your loved one with an Alexapure Pitcher Water Filter so they can have clean water.
- Pet supplies
- Hygiene supplies
- Fire supplies
- Extra power sources, such as batteries and spare chargers
- Battery-powered or solar-powered hand-crank radio
- Cell phone and charger
- First aid kit and medicines
- Duct tape
- Multipurpose tool or a pocketknife
[Related Read: Grab and Go Emergency Evacuations Must-Haves]
If your loved ones are not willing to pack an emergency kit, you can’t force them. But, you can pack enough in your kit for them.
Prepare a Medical Plan
A big reason older adults are more at risk during disasters is due to existing medical conditions.
Therefore, it is critical to consider your family member’s medical needs when devising your emergency plan.
- Keep a weeks’ supply of their medications, as well as an up-to-date medication list that includes the names of any drugs they’re taking and the doses.
- Write down contact information for doctors.
- Prepare to pack medical equipment and necessities, such as blood sugar monitoring equipment, hearing aids and batteries, a backup power supply, and an extra pair of eyeglasses.
- Make copies of Medicare, Medicaid, or other insurance information.
- Consider purchasing a medical ID bracelet.
Also, make sure you have copies of important medical paperwork in your possession.
Consider Travel Arrangements
Part of emergency preparedness also means planning for possible evacuations.
One problem for older adults is that many no longer drive. They are dependent on public transportation or others to get where they need to go.
Another problem is that many older adults cannot simply grab and go for an evacuation due to health conditions. They will need assistance.
Talk to your loved ones about what they would like to do if they needed to evacuate. Where would they want to go, and how would they like to get there?
Use this conversation to make an evacuation plan.
How to Prepare If They Don't Want To
Here’s the thing. Aunt Sally may not be on board with emergency preparedness. Ask anyone who has ever been tasked with taking their parents’ car keys.
When the child becomes the caregiver, the balance shifts. Sometimes, this shift is uncomfortable.
Your older loved ones may still feel like they are in charge and have things under control, and they may not be open to your help.
Help them anyway.
If they won’t listen, emergency preparedness becomes your responsibility.
Let’s say your mom doesn’t take heed of your advice and a hurricane is headed to town, you’ll need to make sure her home is secure and she has the right supplies to ride it out or evacuate.
If you don’t help her beforehand, you’ll have to deal with the aftermath.
Instead of making an already stressful situation even more stressful, keep mom in mind when making preparations. Stock up on enough food to feed your family, as well as your mom. Plan to pick up your mom on your way out of town.
If you don’t live nearby, have a plan for how you can help your loved one from afar. Know how to reach nearby friends and family. Send an emergency preparedness kit through the mail.