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Emergency Preparedness for Older Adults

When disaster strikes, older adults can be some of the most vulnerable among us. Seniors are generally less mobile, making it a challenge for them to respond quickly in an emergency.

A recent study indicates that one in six adults over the age of 50 would need assistance to evacuate their homes in a crisis. Still, less than a quarter of seniors have an emergency plan in place.

Rarely does a crisis come with advance notice. That’s why it’s critical that seniors, and those who care for them, develop a plan for emergencies and review it often.

Identify Potential Risks

Although disaster can strike anywhere at any time, different areas of the country are prone to various types of emergencies. Depending on where you live, you might be more likely to experience flooding, inclement weather, earthquakes, wildfires, or other crises. Take this into consideration when building your emergency plan.

Create Emergency Communications Plan

Choose at least two people who will check on you during a disaster and decide how you will communicate with each other. Remember that phone and internet services may not be available in a disaster situation. Come up with an alternative plan in this scenario. Make sure you have a copy of current phone numbers for people you need to contact in an emergency and update it regularly. Keep a copy of this list in an accessible location within your home, as well as in your purse or wallet. You might also consider giving a copy to a trusted neighbor who can reach out to your emergency contacts if you are unable to do so.

Know Your Exit Routes

If you live at home, identify your exit routes in case you need to evacuate. If possible, pinpoint several options in case your primary exit is inaccessible. If you live in a retirement or assisted living community, ask about their procedures in an evacuation scenario, and request a copy of exit routes.

Pick a Meeting Place

In case of an evacuation, discuss at least two potential meeting locations with your emergency contacts and determine how you will get there. Will you be able to drive, or will someone need to pick you up? If so, who? If they cannot reach you, who can you contact as a back-up? Make sure your emergency contacts have the address and phone number of the meeting location. If you live in a facility, ask the staff where you will be taken in an emergency, and provide that information to your emergency contacts.

Create a Care Plan

Develop a care plan for yourself and keep it in your purse or wallet. You may also consider providing a copy to your emergency contacts. Your care plan should list any medical conditions, medications and their dosage, contact information for the physicians you see, insurance information, a list of preferred hospitals, and your emergency contacts. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has an easy-to-use template that you can utilize.

Secure Vital Documents

A disaster can wipe out important documents in an instant, so it is critical to secure these documents and make digital copies of them as well. Keep the originals in a waterproof bag in a place where you can easily access them. Again, you might consider providing a hard copy and a digital copy of these documents to your emergency contacts. Below is a checklist of the essential documents you need to secure in case of a crisis:

  • Your Care Plan
  • Contact information for family members, doctors, pharmacies and/or caregivers
  • List of all medications, including the exact name of the medicine and the dosage
  • List of allergies to food or medicines
  • Copies of medical insurance cards
  • Copies of a photo ID
  • Durable power of attorney and/or medical power of attorney documents, as appropriate.

Prepare an Emergency Supply Kit

In a crisis, you may not have access to clean water or electricity. Make sure you are prepared with a supply of food, water, and other items to last for at least 72 hours. Store these items in airtight plastic bags, and put them in one or two easy-to-carry containers such as plastic bins or a duffel bag. Ready.gov has a full list of emergency supplies, but a basic emergency kit should include the following recommended items:

  • At least a three-day supply of prescription medications
    • If your medicines need to be refrigerated, have a small cooler and ice packs ready to go.
  • Copies of your Care Plan and other important documents
  • Water (one gallon per person, per day for at least three days)
  • A three-day supply of non-perishable food
  • A manual can-opener
  • Battery-powered or hand-crank radio
  • A flashlight with extra batteries
  • A first aid kit
  • A blanket
  • A whistle to signal for help
  • A cloth face covering
  • A local map
  • A cell phone charger and a back-up battery
  • At least $50 in cash.

Maintain Your Emergency Plan and Kit

After you develop your emergency plan and assemble your kit, remember to maintain it so it is ready when needed. For example, if your doctor prescribes a new medication, update your Care Plan, and provide new copies to your loved ones. Also, check your emergency kit regularly to make sure supplies are in working order and replace expired items as needed.

A disaster or other crisis can be scary, and it’s clear that older adults are more vulnerable to these events if they are unprepared. But with a little planning and support from your network of loved ones, you can ensure that you are prepared for any emergency.

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