Planning for Older Adults

As an older adult, you may have specific needs after a disaster. Use the information on this page to assess your needs and take simple,  low-cost steps that help you get better prepared.

By the time adults have lived through six or more decades, they have probably experienced more than one disaster. Many older adults can be an asset during a disaster, calling upon their prior experience, wisdom and mental resilience to survive, help others, and provide reassurance to those who are frightened or depressed by the events. However, certain aspects of the aging process can make many older adults particularly vulnerable during a disaster, especially if they have one or more chronic illnesses, functional limitations, or dementia. Emergency preparedness experts have begun to recognize the special needs of older adults with chronic conditions following a disaster and are planning to assist this population. 

Why are Older Adults more vulnerable?

Older adults are more vulnerable than younger adults during a disaster because they are more likely to have impaired physical mobility, diminished sensory awareness, chronic health conditions, or social and economic limitations that interfere with their ability to prepare for disasters and to respond and adapt during such events. More than half of older adults have some kind of functional limitation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Older persons who are hard of hearing or cognitively impaired might have trouble understanding information or following directions. They might feel more easily overwhelmed by a disaster, especially if they also have difficulty moving around, standing in line, or sleeping on a low cot in a noisy shelter. Those who use wheelchairs, canes, or walkers cannot climb stairs if elevators stop working due to a power outage. Elders who no longer drive or do not own a car face difficulties evacuating. Older adults also are more prone than younger people to ill effects from extreme temperature, especially if local electric utility or gas distribution services are disrupted for an extended period of time. Seniors living by themselves might not have a support system and many lack sufficient income or other resources to help cope with the after-effects of a disaster.

Due to modern medicine and technology, many seriously ill people continue to live in their own homes with support from caregivers and professionals. These people need a well-thought-out emergency plan to accommodate medical devices and medications.

Frail older adults with certain chronic diseases or disabilities require assistance to survive and recover from a disaster, especially if they are dependent on caregivers for assistance with their daily activities. Exposure to conditions associated with many disasters — such as lack of safe food and water, extreme heat or cold, stress, or exposure to infection — can aggravate chronic conditions that are common to older adults. 

Chronic diseases — such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes— are major causes of death and disability in the United States, according to CDC. Furthermore, adverse events are more likely to occur if certain essential medications for chronic disease, such as insulin or blood thinners, are not available during an emergency. Populations of particular concern following a disaster include those with a history of heart attack, stroke, or breathing disorders; people with diabetes; and those taking blood thinners, certain cancer therapies, or other essential medications.

Plan Ahead

In addition to a basic emergency supply kit, older adults need a personalized emergency plan listing where they can go in an emergency, what they should bring with them (such as medications, eyeglasses, hearing aids and extra batteries, oxygen, or assistive technologies), how they will get there, and who they should call for help.  

Those who use a communication, assistive, or mobility device should include provisions to transport this device with them if they need to evacuate. Similarly, if appropriate, the plan should include any food or supplies needed by a service animal. 

Older adults should keep a list of their medications, doctors, and pharmacies in a waterproof bag. Experts recommend including a photocopy of doctors’ prescriptions to make it easier to get refills in another location. Older adults also should keep a backup list of emergency information, including contacts, medications, medical devices (including style and serial number), and doctors, in another location such as a friend’s home.

Make a Plan

Determine any special assistance you may need and include plans for that assistance in your emergency plan. For more detailed information, visit our page on Individuals with Disabilities.

  • Create a support network of family, friends and others who can assist you during an emergency. Make an Emergency Communications Plan  and practice it with them.
  • Make sure at least one person in your support network has an extra key to your home, knows where you keep your emergency supplies, and knows how to use lifesaving equipment or administer medicine.
  • If you undergo routine treatments administered by a clinic or hospital, find out their emergency plans and work with them to identify back-up service providers.
  • Don’t forget your pets or service animals. Not all shelters accept pets, so plan for alternatives. Consider asking loved ones or friends outside of your immediate area if they can help with your animals.

Get Your Benefits Electronically

A disaster can disrupt mail service for days or weeks. If you depend on Social Security or other regular benefits, switching to electronic payments is a simple, important way to protect yourself financially before disaster strikes. It also eliminates the risk of stolen checks. The U.S. Department of the Treasury recommends two safer ways to get federal benefits:

  • Direct deposit to a checking or savings account. If you get federal benefits you can sign up by calling 800-333-1795 or sign up online.
  • The Direct Express® prepaid debit card is designed as a safe and easy alternative to paper.

Disaster Preparedness Guide for Older Adults

As an older adult, you may have specific needs after a disaster. Use the information on this page to assess your needs and take simple,  low-cost steps that help you get better prepared.

Download the Take Control in 1, 2, 3—Disaster Preparedness Guide for Older Adults. Use the worksheets and checklists in this guide to create your plan, then add it to your emergency kit or put it on your refrigerator as a visible reminder that you are prepared.