prepping tips for the elderly

Crucial Disaster Prepping Tips for the Elderly

When you think of a “prepper” or “survivalist,” what image comes to your mind?  Probably the image which is reinforced by virtually every prepping blog and media report: a youngish man in good health who has a Bug Out Bag packed and is ready to flee into the wilderness at the first sign of trouble.

But my image of a prepper is a bit different.  I think of my grandma.

My grandmother is one of the most important people in my life.  She grew up in a time where self-reliance was valued trait, and people cherished what they had.

While I am not yet elderly and can't personally attest to how emotionally trying it must be to lose your independence, I have spent a lot of time thinking about how prepping is different for the elderly.

I’ve also talked to my grandma a lot, as well as many other older members of my prepping community, to see what their concerns are.

Based on that, here are some prepping tips for the elderly.  Everyone – regardless of age – has the right and obligation to be prepared!

1. Take Stock of Your Health

One of the biggest factors that makes disaster prepping for the elderly different is special medical needs.  Now, a lot of prepping websites – such as this one – harp on about how you should work on improving your health right now.

Yes, it is very important that you take steps to get healthy.  But, I personally find the advice of “get healthy” very condescending.  It’s not like you can reverse all the symptoms of aging just by walking more and eating healthier food!

The elderly are particularly susceptible to disaster conditions.  Just consider how 71% of the people who died during hurricane Katrina were over 60. So let’s focus on more practical tips for prepping for any medical issues you might have:


Medical Supplies/Equipment:

  • Keep spare batteries for your equipment charged and ready to go.
  • Get an emergency generator for any powered medical equipment.
  • Have backups of essential medical equipment.
  • Consider using a Faraday cage to protect medical devices against EMP.

2. Be Ready to Flee

elderly people waiting out a disaster

With the most common types of disasters – such as hurricanes and tornadoes – we have advanced warning.  The problem is that people don’t heed the warning and wait too long to evacuate.  By the time they’ve made the decision, it may be too late.  They’ll face obstacles like roadblocks and traffic jams.

As an elderly person, you can’t afford to get stuck in your vehicle while a hurricane is approaching, nor can you push through crowds of people at bus stations for a seat on the last departing bus.

Here’s how to make sure you get out on time.

Stay Informed:

Leave before the Event Becomes a Disaster:

  • Leave even if the disaster level is still at “watch” and not yet “warning.”
  • Decide in advance under what conditions you will leave so you don’t let emotions/indecision take control. It is better to flee now (even if the disaster never occurs) rather than take the risk of staying.

Have a Place to Go:

  • Plan a place to go which is outside of the likely disaster zone, such as a relative’s home that you can go to without advanced notice.
  • Make sure you know directions to the location.

Be Ready to Leave Immediately:

Stay Mobile:

  • Keep your vehicle filled with at least a half tank of gas at all times
  • If you use a battery-powered wheelchair or scooter, make sure you have a backup battery charged at all times.
  • Have spare walkers and other mobility-assisting equipment readily available.
  • Consider getting specialized wheels for your wheelchair so it can go over rubble.
elderly woman being carried out of earthquake zone

A woman carries her elderly mother out of the city after the deadly earthquake in Japan. This would have been easier for everyone had they planned for evacuation in advance.

3. Plan to Bug In

Even though you should be prepared to flee at the first moment’s notice of a disaster (even if the disaster never occurs), the reality is that many elderly people will be staying put during a disaster.  They might not be able to leave because of physical conditions, or there may simply not be enough advance warning of the disaster.

So, one of the best disaster prepping tips for the elderly is to be ready to bug in.

In many ways, bugging in is the same for the elderly as the rest of the population.  But there are some additional factors the elderly need to prep for.

Stockpile 30 Days’ Worth of Emergency Supplies:

Other Bug-In Priorities:

*Want to see how prepared you are? Use this Emergency Preparedness Checklist.  The checklist will show you where your preparedness strengths and weaknesses are.

4. It Is Okay to Rely on FEMA (to a point)

elderly person in FEMA shelterI know that I’m going to get a lot of stick for this one.  Especially considering how much FEMA has failed us in past disasters.  Hurricane Katrina is the prime example of this: people were crowded into emergency shelters without food, water, or toilets for days.

However, just because our goal is self-reliance, it doesn’t mean we should dismiss the resources that the government provides us in times of crises.

Consider Special Needs Shelters:

As the CDC talks about here, many states set up Special Needs Shelters for medically dependent residents. These shelters are typically staffed by medical personnel.  You are still expected to bring your own medications, equipment, and caregiver, but there will be more support than in your typical shelter.

Create Signs to Signal for Help:

Pre-make large signs to put in your windows in case you need to be rescued.

Don’t let the bravado self-reliance talk in prepper communities get to you. There is no shame in asking for help when you need it!

Register for Evacuation Assistance:

As Elder Affairs talks about here, some states (such as Florida) have laws which say that individuals with special needs are eligible for evacuation assistance.  Your friends and family might not be able to help you, so these services could save your life during an emergency.  Register with your local emergency management agency before a disaster hits!

Army and Air Force assisting elderly evacuees from hurricane

Heroes in the Air Force and Army wait to assist elderly people who had been evacuated from New Orleans.

5. Forget Most Traditional Prepping Advice

Unfortunately, as an elderly person, a lot of the traditional prepping advice doesn’t apply to you.  For example:

Advice: Stock up on items that can be used for bartering.
Reality: If elderly people try to barter, they'll expose their stash and get mugged.

Advice: Learn wilderness survival skills.
Reality: Elderly people with medical conditions won’t be able to withstand the elements and do many of the survival tasks which require physical strength.

Instead, focus on your unique situation and the strengths you have.  You might be surprised – like how being elderly could actually work to your benefit since people will perceive you as weak and not worthwhile as a target.

6. Safety In Numbers!

wheelchair assistance for evacuating elderly from hurricane

The Red Cross has some good prepping tips for the elderly about building a “personal support network.”   These are the people who will help you during an emergency.  It could be your family, neighbors, or a prepping community that you join.  Here are some things to do:

  • Arrange for someone check in on you in an emergency.
  • Make sure people in your network have copies of your keys.
  • Make a communication plan (and don’t count on the telephone to be working)
  • Notify each other when going out of town.
  • Make sure the relationship is mutual. What do you have to offer?

7. Arm Yourself

No one knows what will happen in a disaster scenario, but we can predict that people might be target the elderly for looting or mugging because of their perceived weakness.

The obvious solution to this is to arm yourself but, in reality, that could backfire.

If you are going to use a firearm to defend yourself, you better be prepared to use it.  The backfire can also be a big problem for many senior citizens.

Pepper spray is a good option for self defense.

Instead of a firearm, you might consider using alternative weapons such as pepper spray.  And don’t forget about defense – looking like you have nothing worth stealing will prevent you from being a target!

8. Don’t Forget the Little Things

The little things can make a big difference towards your disaster preparedness.  Here are just some of the things for elderly preppers to keep in mind.  Let me know if you have anything to add to this!

  • Pack extra glasses
  • Have extra batteries for hearing aids
  • Be sure to include copies of your medical insurance, medications, and doctors in your emergency documents
  • Have an emergency contact list
  • Have an emergency plan for your pets
  • Improve your home security
  • Educate yourself about disasters

Are you an elderly prepper? What ways are you taking disaster prep into your own hands? We'd love to hear from you!

Image credits:

Leaving The City, Tohoku” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by 路上写真家 [overworked and catching up!] Hollygrve taxi wheelchair” by Infrogmation (CC BY 2.5) via Wikimedia Commons

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