Disaster Preparedness for Seniors – Think Beyond the Checklist!

October 6, 2016

With earthquake warnings in California and Hurricane Matthew approaching the Southeast coast, emergency preparedness is on a lot of our minds.  Everyone knows the basics for readiness; like water, food, first aid kit, etc.  For a useful summary of basic emergency supplies, the Red Cross has a great checklist here.  While the standard preparations will work fine for most of us, loved ones and caregivers need to take special considerations when helping a senior prepare for the worst.  Here are a few tips on adapting the usual preparations to help ensure a senior stays safe when things get rough outside:    

Have them for a visit! 

If you’re already prepared for yourself, or even better, you live in an area clear of danger, consider having your loved one come to visit until the coast is clear.  It’s not possible for everyone, but if you can pull it off you’ll rest easier knowing they are safe and you are completely aware of their status. Just make sure to plan ahead and give yourself plenty of travel time as you don’t want to be on the road when disaster strikes.   

Care Arrangements

Increasingly, seniors are choosing to remain at home or “age in place”, making arrangements with home care agencies or individual caregivers.  In the event of a natural disaster a caregiver may find themselves unable to reach their client, possibly for an extended period of time.  If your loved one is unable to live independently without assistance, particularly if they’re suffering from dementia, make sure there is a backup plan in the event that a caregiver is not able to make it.  If you are working with a home care agency, verify they have  an emergency plan in place and that it will meet your loved ones requirements.   Also, create a support network, making arrangements with neighbors and friends, and consider having very local backup caregiver to assist in the event of an emergency. 


Yes, you already know you need a gallon a day for each person, and enough for at least three days.  However many seniors find it impossible to heft a gallon jug of water weighing more than 8 lbs whenever they need a drink.  If there’s no caregiver around to assist, consider buying smaller, more manageable water bottles that are easy to open. Just make sure you buy in a quantity that will manage for at least three days.  Also, a water dispenser from a service can hold up to 5 gallons and can be accessed easily with the flick of a switch.  Just make sure there’s someone that can assist with changing the bottle if needed.         


It goes without saying, proper medication management can be the difference between life and death for many seniors and people with disabilities.  Even a small delay or single doses missed can have serious consequences. Getting prescription refills can be a time consuming headache on the best of days. A disaster will make it totally impossible.  It’s critical that caregivers and loved ones ensure that a senior’s medications are not only stocked, but on a schedule that synchronizes refills as closely as possible and are filled well before current meds run out, ensuring an ample supply if the senior is homebound for a while.  Also, make absolutely sure all expired or non-current medications are disposed of promptly to avoid confusion and medication errors.     


Proper hygiene is a serious consideration for seniors and people with disabilities.  Incontinence,  skin conditions and existing wounds are just a few concerns that, if left unattended for long, can result in serious consequences.  Caregivers and loved ones should ensure that  hygiene supplies such as undergarments, bed pads, gloves and wound dressing are well stocked and replenished long before running out.     

Nutritional Supplements

For many seniors stocking up is not just a matter of grabbing staples off the shelves.  Diets change as we age and many seniors or people with disabilities have special dietary needs that have to be taken into consideration. Medical conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, choking issues or poor teeth play a role in considering preparations.  Often seniors require nutritional supplements such as protein drinks or meal bars to ensure a balanced diet and proper nutrition.  Make sure to stock these well ahead of time and chose carefully to ensure they comply with special dietary restrictions.        

Documentation and Identification!   

We should all keep an emergency file that contains information that would be useful to first responders. However, this is especially important for seniors and people with disabilities who may have conditions or special considerations that might impact how treatment or life-saving measures are implemented.  This file should contain information such as medical conditions, medications, cognition issues or behavioral concerns, advance directives, physician and other contact information.     

Don’t wait!  

When the skies are clear and things are calm, it might seem like overkill to be making plans for a natural disaster.  However, for seniors and people with disabilities, taking the time and careful consideration to plan appropriately can truly be the determining factor between best and worst case scenario for your loved one in an emergency situation.  

About the Author

Doug Breuer is co-founder of MyCareMatch.com and has worked in senior care for the last 9 years for the State of Oregon. From investigating cases of elder abuse to managing the delivery of long term care to residents of Central Oregon, Doug has been involved in all aspects of senior care.

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