Older people and senior citizens need extra care and attention during emergencies. Most emergencies happen when they are not with a caregiver. The most common emergency is when an elderly falls with no one around. According to the National Council for Aging, 1 in 4 Americans 65 and older fall each year. This is the leading cause of death for this age group. It is important to be prepared for any emergency that might affect a senior.
Older people and seniors are prone to more accidents due to their vision, hearing, medication, medical conditions, surgical procedures, and the environment. In many cases, homes need to have additional considerations for elderly residents. These improvements can include non-skid rugs, grab bars and railings in hallways, bathrooms and entrances. Lightning may need to be brightened with new fixtures.
Vision weakens as the body gets older. Weak vision can lead to falls or other accidents. Be sure to get yearly eye exams and have your glasses or contacts checked as needed. Make sure you have copies of eyeglass and contact lens prescriptions. Your vision will keep you on track in a crisis situation.
Hearing weakens along with vision. When evacuating or giving directions, it is important to be aware of those who are hard of hearing. This way, you or somebody else can give them individualized attention if needed. If you have an older adult or senior in the family who is unable to hear well, consider a hearing aid to help them.
Diseases and chronic conditions are common as age increases. Most common conditions involve heart disease, cancer, joint pain/arthritis and altered mental states. If you are or know someone who might have these conditions make sure others know in case they need extra help or attention.
Medication is extremely important. Some medication can have side effects that can cause dizziness or confusion. Write down every medication you take and note if any side effects are extreme. Keep these notes up-to-date as your prescriptions change.
Surgical procedures can weaken the body. Keep this in mind or write it down for your family or caregiver to know. Inform those around you if you use any medical equipment and be sure they know how to operate it as well. If you are in need of assistance for transportation, tell friends, family, and co-workers.
Environmental factors play a huge part as well. If you live in a place with more than one story, and are unable to use the stairs during an evacuation, let someone know. Tell your neighbors, family, and friends so someone can assist you if needed.
Here are some additional safety practices to help you stay safe.
- Be up-to-date on glasses, contacts, and hearing aids.
- Make copies of medical records and medications. If medications have any side effects, write that down as well.
- Write down the type and model of any medical devices you use. This can include any mobility products such as a wheelchair.
- Make an evacuation plan in case of fire or other emergencies. If you or an older person needs assistance evacuating, be aware. Practice evacuating and have a strategy in place.
If you or an older person in your family is not in a senior living home, consider a home security system or an individual medical alert system. These systems make it easy for seniors living alone to get help when needed.
Everyone should have a written emergency plan. The reality of a disaster situation is that you will likely not have access to everyday conveniences, including electricity and even running water. It’s unlikely you can weather the storm alone, so here are some essentials for your emergency plan:
- Create a personal support network
Identify others who can assist you to get through an emergency. They may be friends, neighbors, caretakers or family members. Write down their phone numbers, email addresses and other contact information. Include the local transportation agency, bus or taxi service you may use regularly. Think about the types of transportation you use and what back-ups you may need. Talk to these people and ask them to be part of your emergency network. They may ask you to be part of their network. Make a list of your daily routine and share it with friends and family. You may want to give a trusted family member or friend a key to your residence and tell them where to find emergency supplies.
- Develop a family communications plan
You and family members may not be together when an emergency happens, so plan now how you’ll contact one another and review what you’ll do in different situations. Consider a plan where each family member calls or emails an emergency contact, preferably an out-of-town contact, in case of an emergency. It may be easier and more reliable to call or text someone out-of-town than to call across town. An out-of-town contact may not be involved in your emergency situation, so they’re better capable of giving you all their attention. Make sure you know how to text message family members. Text messages will go through when voice calls won’t.
- Stay or Go?
Depending on the type of emergency or disaster, the first important decision you need to make is to stay home or go somewhere else. You should plan for both possibilities, using common sense and available information. Keep in mind that local authorities may not be able to tell you what is best for YOU. If you decide to stay home, you may need to rely on your emergency kit for food, water, communications and information. If you decide to go, you’ll need a place to go. Choose several destinations in advance so you have options in an emergency. Ask about evacuation plans and shelters where you work or spend time – like churches, community centers or recreation centers. If you rely on elevators, make a plan in case the elevator isn’t working.If you’re specifically told by police or emergency agencies to evacuate or seek medical treatment, do so immediately! If you need transportation assistance, make sure to have these phone numbers written down and make arrangements in advance. Monitor local television and radio stations for additional information.
- Important Documents
Take a large envelope and make copies of important documents, so you have them in case you have to leave your home in a hurry. Include copies of wills, power of attorney and other legal or court documents, insurance policies, deeds, social security cards, medicare/medicaid cards, credit cards and other important numbers. Include medical records and medication/eyeglass prescriptions. Include a list of names and phone numbers of the people in your personal support network as well as your medical providers.
Everyone should have an emergency kit. It should include everything you’ll need to survive for at least three days. You may have a kit that you’ll use if you stay home during an emergency and another one that includes food and clothing if you have to evacuate. Here are some of the basic items that should go in your emergency kit:
- Medicines that you take regularly. At least a three and preferably a seven day supply.
- Water – One gallon per person per day. Include water for pets.
- Food – At least a three-day supply of items that don’t need to be cooked.
- A battery-powered or hand crank AM/FM radio.
- A battery-powered or hand crank NOAA All-hazards weather radio.
- Flashlight with extra batteries.
- First aid kit.
- Whistle to signal for help.
- Dust mask.
- CASH – At least $50 in one and five dollar bills.
- Moist towelettes, trash bags and plastic ties for sanitation purposes.
Include your pets
Your emergency plans need to include your pets or service animals. Whether you stay in your home or evacuate to another location, they need an emergency kit as well, with food, water and other supplies. Here’s what goes in a pet emergency kit. Keep in mind that some shelters will not accommodate pets, so you may have to make arrangements with a kennel or other boarding facility.
It’s important for everyone and especially seniors to stay informed and involved with emergency preparedness. Stay aware of the types of hazards that can affect your community. Keep in touch with the news and especially local weather conditions. Take a first aid class, CPR or other health assistance class. Volunteer to stay engaged with your local community activities.
Be prepared to adapt this information to your personal circumstances. Try to follow directions given by local authorities so you and other family members stay safe. Above all, stay calm, be patient, and think before you act. With these simple preparations, you can be ready for the unexpected.
The American Red Cross has helpful resources in senior emergency preparedness. Here’s a brochure from the American Red Cross about how older people need to be prepared for emergencies.
Review our blog post on CPR and AED awareness.