Emergency Preparedness for Older Adults
Tools and Tips
Older Adults are among the most vulnerable when disaster strikes. Help may not be immediately available in the wake of a disaster, and pharmacies, medical supply stores, physicians' offices, and hospitals may be closed or inaccessible. That's why it's critical that older people, and those who care for them, prepare for emergencies.
If you're an older adult, or have an older loved one, here's how to prepare for and respond in an emergency:
Step 1: Come Up With an Emergency Plan
Agree on a communications strategy It's best to create a "phone call chain," an arrangement in which you make an initial call to a designated person and they in turn call their designated person and so on. This will ensure that all relatives and friends know what is happening in the event of an emergency.
Keep contact information complete and up-to-date Make sure you have the current home, work, and cell phone numbers of any relatives or friends you'll need to contact in an emergency. Keep an extra copy of these numbers in your Disaster Supplies Kit (more below). And make sure your relatives and friends have your phone number, and the numbers of nearby friends or neighbors whom they can contact in case you're unable to answer the phone in the midst of an emergency. If you have a very elderly or disabled loved one, put a copy of key phone numbers in several places - in a travel wallet he or she can wear, in purses and in suitcases.
Designate a meeting place In case you're asked to evacuate your home, pick two meeting places - one near your home, the other outside the neighborhood - where you can wait and relatives can find you. The home of a friend who lives outside the neighborhood and can accommodate your family for a few days is an ideal out-of -neighborhood meeting spot. Make sure everyone has this friend's address, and phone number. If a loved one lives in a facility, find out where he or she will be taken in case of evacuation.
Make travel arrangements in case of evacuation Talk to family members (and the directors of the facility in which you live, if you're not living independently) about what you would do in the event of an evacuation. If you're living independently, you and loved ones should consider these questions and make necessary arrangements: Will you be able to drive or will you need someone to pick you up? If so, who, and at what meeting place? If that person is unable to reach you, who will provide a back-up ride, and how will that person be contacted? If you have a very elderly or disabled loved one, try not to get separated from him or her during an evacuation. If he or she is in a facility, ask the facility director to designate a staffer who will stay with him or her during the evacuation.
Get local emergency and evacuation information in advance Ask local authorities if they have a community disaster/emergency plan for your area. And obtain a map of evacuation routes in your area and keep this in your car. In addition, ask local officials where evacuees might turn for medical care or emergency supplies of medications, if necessary. In the event of an evacuation, tune the radio to local stations broadcasting evacuation instructions.
Consider ordering a medical ID bracelet If you or an older loved one has a chronic health problem, consider ordering a medical ID bracelet or pendant. Information on medical conditions, such as diabetes or asthma; drug and food allergies; prescribed medicines; and emergency contacts can be engraved onto the surface of these bracelets and pendants. This may be particularly helpful if you or a loved one has health problems, such as epilepsy or Parkinson's disease, which may make communicating with emergency workers difficult. If you have a very elderly or disabled loved one, put his or her identification information, list of diagnoses and medications in a traveler's wallet that he or she can wear in case of emergency.
Step 2: Stock an Emergency Medical Kit
Many older adults take medications for chronic health problems such as heart disease and diabetes, so it's essential that they have back-up supplies. If you take medications that require refrigeration, such as insulin, buy ice packs and an insulated bag big enough to hold a two-week supply. Keep the ice packs in the freezer. If you need to leave in an emergency, you can quickly grab your medications, put them in the bag with the ice packs, and tuck them into an emergency medical kit. Every emergency medical kit should include:
At least a two-week supply of medications in original packaging Since insurance companies usually won't pay for more than a 30-day supply, consider asking your doctor for an extra prescription, and paying for it out-of-pocket. Another option: fill prescriptions a week early each month until you have at least a 2-week supply for emergencies. Keep the original packaging: In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, some pharmacies were dispensing medications without prescriptions to those who had the original the original bottle or box. Note: As an added precaution, ask your doctor what you should do if your emergency supply doesn't last though an emergency, gets lost or, say, damaged by heat or water. Ask, for example, if you can stretch out the supply of some medications by skipping every other dose, or cutting pills in half. This may or may not be advisable.
Medical equipment Include blood sugar monitoring equipment, a blood pressure cuff, hearing aid batteries and any other devices you or loved ones use regularly.
Written information about treatment Ask your doctor for copies of your medical records and lists of:
- any medical problems you have and how they're being treated
- the names (including generic names) of any drugs you're taking and the doses
If you have a very elderly or disabled loved one, carry extra copies of his or her medical and Medicare, Medicaid or other insurance information with you.
An extra pair of eyeglasses or hearing aides or dentures, if you wear them.
Room for last minute additions: Such as medications that need to be kept in an insulated bag with ice packs.
Step 3. Assemble a Disaster Supplies Kit
A disaster supplies kit should include your medical kit equipment and:
Water: Pack at least 1 gallon per person per day. You should have at least a 3-day supply; a 2-week supply is ideal.
Food: Stock at least a 3-day supply of canned and dried foods and other non-perishables. Juices, soups, and high-protein shakes may be particularly helpful for older adults.
Basic supplies: Include a manual can opener, flashlight, portable radio, extra batteries, waterproof matches, knife, re-sealable plastic bags, aluminum foil, plates and utensils, disposable cups, and basic cooking utensils.
Maps: Include local and regional maps in case some roads are blocked and you need to take detours.
Changes of clothing: Include a complete set of clothing-a long sleeved shirt, long pants, shoes, a coat, hat, mittens, and scarf- per person.
Blankets: Include one per person.
Phone numbers and contact information and key papers: Include numbers and addresses of friends and relatives you might need to contact, physicians and any specialists you see. Also include copies of your credit and identification cards
Cash: It's a good idea to bring at least $500; if that's not possible, bring as much as you can.
First Aid kit and manual: See the Red Cross's comprehensive list of what to pack in your first aid kit, at www.redcross.org. The Red Cross also sells prepackaged first aid kits.
Basic hygiene products: Include soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, sunscreen, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, baby wipes, and a few trash bags for garbage.
DISCLAIMER: This information is not intended to diagnose health problems or to take the place of medical advice or care you receive from your physician or other healthcare provider. Always consult your healthcare provider about your medications, symptoms, and health problems.
Last Updated September 2011