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Emergency Preparedness for Older Adults: Addressing Unique Concerns

Whether it’s a power outage, a wildfire or a sudden health problem, we all need to be prepared to face an emergency. If you’re an older adult, you might have to take extra steps to be ready for whatever comes your way. 

“At any age, preparing for possible emergencies or disasters is key. Stay informed with local radio and news channels on any upcoming changes with weather or other possible emergencies,” said Melissa Zukowski, MD, an emergency department medical director with Banner – University Medicine. Be aware of the weather challenges that are unique to your area, such as heat waves, flood risks or other natural disasters.

“Older adults may face disasters and emergencies differently than younger adults. Impaired physical mobility and chronic health conditions can make a big impact on their ability to prepare for and react to disasters,” she said. “Plus, decreased sensory awareness and social or economic limitations can make communication more challenging.”

By planning ahead, seniors can tackle any emergencies with confidence. Here are a few tips:

Managing your medications

If you're an older adult, there's a good chance you are taking multiple medications to help stay as healthy as possible. Having a clear, detailed list of all the medicines you need is important. That way, caregivers, emergency responders and health care providers can easily see all your prescribed medications, dosages and instructions.

You will also want to have your medications well-organized and accessible in case you need to take them with you on short notice. If you use a pill organizer or a medicine dispenser, fill it regularly. Keep the rest of your medication in a box or container that you can retrieve quickly during an emergency.

Don’t wait until the last minute to refill your prescriptions. Have plenty of the medications you need on hand. That way, if a disaster strikes and you can’t reach a pharmacy or health care facility right away, you have enough medication with you.

Plan for mobility issues

As an older adult, you might not be as mobile as you once were. “Older adults can have more challenges in getting out of harm’s way. They might have personal mobility issues or lack access to their own transportation,” Dr. Zukowski said.

Reduced mobility can mean it could take you longer to evacuate and to get to a safe place than it would otherwise. A mobility-friendly emergency plan can help you overcome these challenges.

Be sure your living areas are free of any hazards like area rugs or electric cords. Make sure you can easily get to and through all of the exits in your home, not just the ones you use most often. And talk with your health care provider about your needs to find out about any equipment or assistive devices that could make it easier for you to be mobile in an emergency. 

Check that routes to shelters are accessible. If you use a wheelchair or have limited mobility, review these routes ahead of time to make sure you will be able to use them. Share your accessible routes with neighbors, caregivers and family members in case you need their help to evacuate. “Know where you can turn for transportation if you are no longer able to drive and don’t have access to public transportation,” Dr. Zukowski said.

Know how you’re going to communicate

Communication is crucial in an emergency, especially if you're an older adult who might need support from others. 

Create a list of emergency contacts that includes your health care providers, family members and neighbors. Review and update this information regularly to make sure it's up to date. Name one person on this list as a point of contact who can make sure that everyone is on the same page during an emergency.

In a disaster, some types of communication could be out of service. Learn how to use different kinds of technology ahead of time. You may want to use communication apps like WhatsApp, text messaging platforms or video call services to connect with others. 

Set up these accounts and learn how to use them before you need them. And make sure that any phones, laptops, tablets or other devices you need are close at hand and charged. “Access to a landline or mobile phone can be lifesaving,” Dr. Zukowski said. 

Create a personal emergency kit

This checklist can help you put together an emergency kit to have on hand in case you need it:

Essential documents
  • Personal identification such as your driver’s license, passport or other legal ID 
  • Medical insurance information and policy numbers
  • List of medications and dosages 
  • Photocopies of important medical documents and records 
  • Documentation of any allergies or medical conditions
  • Emergency contact list including health care providers, family, friends and neighbors
Medical supplies
  • Seven-day supply of prescription medications
  • First aid kit with bandages, antiseptic wipes and pain relievers 
  • Medical equipment such as hearing aids, glasses, mobility aids, insulin syringes, test strips and/or a blood pressure cuff
Communication essentials
  • Charged mobile phone with a portable charger 
  • Emergency contact information, written or printed on paper 
  • List of important addresses such as hospitals, shelters and nearby friends and relatives
Comfort items
  • Spare clothing and comfortable footwear 
  • Blanket or sleeping bag 
  • Personal hygiene necessities such as a toothbrush, toothpaste and sanitary items like toilet paper and tissues
  • A book or magazine
Safety tools
  • Flashlight with extra batteries 
  • Portable radio with extra batteries
  • Multipurpose tool or knife 
  • Whistle (to signal for help)
Nutrition and hydration
  • Non-perishable snacks such as granola bars and nuts
  • At least a three-day supply of bottled water

Review and update your emergency kit regularly. It’s important to make sure contact information is accurate and medical supplies, batteries, food and water haven’t expired. 

Connect with community support

Your local community can be an important place to turn for help in an emergency. Before a disaster strikes, reach out to:

  • Senior centers
  • Local centers on aging
  • Local health departments
  • The American Red Cross
  • Community centers
  • Nonprofits
  • Neighborhood watch programs
  • Faith-based organizations

These places may provide wellness checks, support services, emergency planning, transportation and educational opportunities. 

Community organizations may also offer emergency preparedness programs where you can learn about emergency procedures, participate in drills and get information about local shelters, evacuation routes and emergency services.

The bottom line

Medication management, mobility issues, lack of transportation and communication struggles can make it harder for older adults to prepare for emergencies. But by planning ahead, seniors can be sure they’ve done everything possible to be ready for any disaster that comes their way.

For a deeper dive into how to prepare for an emergency, check out the American Red Cross site, “Emergency Preparedness for Older Adults,” and the plan for older adults at You can also reach out to a Banner Health provider for guidance..

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