In the last month or two, I’ve received more than a couple of messages from readers who are seeking more information on suggestions for senior citizens who want to prep for emergencies. Today, we’ll discuss a few things seniors can do to help be better prepared for disasters at home. We’re not going to get into care facilities in this installment. We’ll address that in a later post. For now, if you have a loved one who is living at a care facility, please be sure to have a discussion with the folks in charge of the facility to find out what the plans are in the event of major emergencies. Same thing goes if you or your senior receives in-home care assistance. Talk to the care provider about what provisions are made in the event of severe weather or other situations that might preclude the caregiver from making their scheduled visit. This includes programs like Meals on Wheels, too.
Risk Assessment and Warnings
One of the first steps is to do a risk assessment and gain an understanding of what emergencies and disasters are likely to happen in the area. For example, those who live in Florida might be concerned about hurricanes while those on the West Coast are more likely to see earthquakes. It is also important to understand how residents may be warned ahead of time about emergency situations, such as tornado warnings or other approaching severe weather. Many areas use alert systems like reverse 911 or mass texting. Know what to expect but understand that even the best warning systems ever designed aren’t perfect. If a warning does come through, follow the instructions given as well as the plan you and your family have devised.
Be sure to have posted in the home a list of contact information for who to reach out to when needed. These include:
–Primary care physician
–Utility contacts (power, gas, water)
–Veterinarian (if pets or service animals are in the home)
–Family/friend emergency contacts
If you have a cell phone, have these programmed in the Contacts list as well. I’d suggest still having the list posted in the home, as well as having a copy in the portable emergency kit, in case the cell phone is lost, stolen, or the battery dies.
Arrangements should be made such that family or close friends make sure to check on you, either in person, by phone, or through some other means, in a timely manner if a disaster hits.
There are several different companies that offer medical alert monitoring. Depending upon your situation, this might be worth looking into further. As you do your research, consider:
–Pricing: Anything overly complicated is likely a scam. Figure about $1.00-1.50 per day for monitoring service.
–Services provided: What do they do vs. what you need from the system. Some will perform daily reminders for meds, others might not. Do you want or need fitness tracking along with emergency monitoring?
–Equipment: If it is wearable, is it comfortable? If it isn’t or if it is godawful ugly, you won’t want to wear it, which defeats the purpose. What’s the range, meaning how far away from the base unit can you go and still have everything work properly? Can you go out in the yard? Is it GPS enabled and thus you can go pretty much anywhere you want?
–Response: The system should be monitored 24/7, with a live human being available to speak with at any time. Alerts should be responded to in seconds.
The basic needs don’t change, of course, regardless of age. Food, water, and other necessities sufficient to last at least a week. While many government agencies suggest 72 hours, I recommend extending that to at least a full week, ideally longer. Concentrate on shelf-stable foods that require little or no preparation to eat. If you have a sensitive digestive system, whether due to medications or not, avoid sudden diet changes that result from stocking up on dehydrated or freeze-dried “survival” foods. Just stick with the stuff you know your body likes.
Many seniors have medical conditions that require the use of prescription medications. Talk to the prescribing physician about obtaining an emergency supply of these meds to keep at home, just in case you can’t get out to the pharmacy for a refill. Don’t overlook other medical needs, too, such as eyeglasses, hearing aids, incontinence products, denture adhesive, and dietary supplements. Have plenty of these supplies on hand, including spare batteries for your ears.
Mobility-assistance equipment is also important. Have a spare walker or cane in case your primary one is damaged. If you have a scooter, invest in a spare battery.
One of the simplest preps is also one of the most important. Stash a decent flashlight in every single room. One never knows when the power might go out or where you will be when it happens. The last thing you want is to trip over something in the dark as you’re making your way to the junk drawer in the kitchen. Check the batteries in your flashlights twice a year, when you change the clocks due to Daylight Savings.
A generator might be a wise investment if you rely upon any sort of life support devices. Do your homework so you invest in a unit that will handle your needs and ensure you will be able to start it properly.
Emergency Management Plans
Talk to the emergency management folks at the local and county level. Ask them about what and where emergency shelters may be set up if the need arises. Some communities have plans and provisions for “special needs shelters” specifically for the elderly and others who might need medical care. If there are plans for one in your area, make sure you know where it will be located and whether there are any special restrictions, such as calling ahead. Some areas also offer emergency evacuation assistance so inquire about that as well.
Pets and Service Animals
Most emergency shelters will not allow pets for safety reasons. Service animals should be allowed but please do NOT try and pass off your pet as a service animal. It probably won’t work. A better plan is to figure out ahead of time where you can with your pets, should the need arise. Many vets offer boarding, especially in emergencies. Otherwise, call around to local motels and find out which ones are pet-friendly. Consider heading to one of them rather than an emergency shelter.
Hunker Down or Bug Out
For many, and not just seniors, bugging out simply won’t be a viable option. But, in the vast majority of likely scenarios, hunkering down at home is the recommended course of action anyway. In most situations where emergency evacuation is the best choice, you’ll hopefully have a little advance warning, such as when a hurricane is headed your way. Despite what you might read in various prepper blogs and what not, very few emergency situations are improved by running off to live in the woods. Instead, make plans for where you can go, such as the home of a family member or close friend, inexpensive motel, or community shelter. Again, though, the focus should be on staying at home until or unless home is not a safe option.