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Emergency Preparedness for Older Adults and Caregivers

Image shows emergency supplies like falshlights, batteries, and a first aid kit arranged on a table. A hand takes note of the items on a clipboard.

For many reasons, older adults may have a harder time reacting to emergencies, severe weather, and other dangerous conditions than younger people do. You can make it easier for yourself or an older loved one to react by having an emergency plan and kit.

Have an Emergency Plan

Write down what you will do and what you may need in case of an emergencies. This plan is a tool for both you and anyone who come to your home to help you during an emergency, so keep a copy in a location that is easy to see and access. 

Know Whom to Call and Where to Go

  • Ask a trusted family member, friend, or neighbor to be your safety net. This person will visit or call you when an emergency happens. Agree to a plan for what they will do if they are unable to reach you or find you needing help. Consider giving this person a key to your home.
  • If you do not have someone you trust to be your safety net contact, consider signing up for the Staying Connected service.
  • Keep a list of emergency contacts including the name and phone number of a family member or friend, your doctor, pharmacist, and other health care providers.
  • Designate a safe place to go (such as a friend or neighbor's house or shelter) and have a plan for getting there if it becomes unsafe to stay in your home.
  • If you have regular medical treatments in your home, at the hospital, in the doctor's office, or in another place, ask the provider what their emergency plans are in an emergency. Ask for help identifying a back-up provider in case you are unable to travel or they are unable to help you.

Know Where Your Supplies Are

  • Write down the locations of your emergency supplies and medical equipment. If possible, draw - or have someone draw it for you - a map of your home with the locations of your supplies marked on it.
  • Write down special instructions for police, firefighters, or EMTs, who may come to your home to help you in an emergency. These might include how to help you move around, how to operate your medical equipment, how to communicate with you if you have difficulty communicating, and what to take with you if they have to take you out of your home (such as medications, insulin, oxygen, etc.).

Prepare Your Household

  • Review your homeowners or renters insurance to make sure you have enough coverage in the case of severe weather, including flooding. The Ohio Department of Insurance offers a Severe Weather Preparation and Recovery Toolkit.
  • Make sure you have access to a phone (such as a hard-wired landline or a cell phone) that will work if the electricity goes out.
  • Note where the main valves and switches are for gas, water and electricity in your home. Write down instructions for operating them if you are unable. 
  • Ensure you are able to safely heat your home in the winter and cool your home in the winter. Keep your thermostat set to a comfortable temperature. Have your heating and cooling systems, fireplaces, and chimneys inspected regularly.
  • If you use portable fans, air conditioners, or space heaters to control the temperature in your home, keep fire extinguishers near each device.
  • Have your rain gutters and downspouts cleaned out several times a year, but especially in early winter and and early summer and any time you see them overflowing.
  • If you receive state or federal benefits checks, consider switching to electronic deposits to your checking or savings accounts. A disaster can disrupt  mail service for days or weeks. Contact your benefit issuer to learn about options, which may also include a prepaid debit card. 
  • Have your vehicle inspected by a qualified mechanic at least in the early summer and early winter to make sure it is reliable and all systems - including your heating and cooling system - are in working condition.

Have an Emergency Kit

The goal of an emergency kit is to collect the things you may need to remain in your home for at least three days if it becomes unsafe for you to leave. Standard items every emergency kit should have include: A battery operated radio, a flashlight, extra batteries, a signaling device (such as a loud whistle, horn or bell), food that you can open and prepare easily, water (one gallon per person per day), extra blankets and a first aid kit. 

In addition, older adults should consider adding other things to their emergency kits: 

  • Medications - Keep a backup supply of the medications you take every day (check expiration dates every couple of months and replace if necessary). Ask your doctors for extra copies of your prescriptions for your emergency kit. Have an ice chest on hand and keep ice packs in the freezer for medications that need to be kept cool.
  • Medical supplies - Keep a backup stash of medical supplies such as bandages, wraps, alcohol, lotions, over-the-counter medications, etc.
  • Equipment and assistive devices - Make sure your medical equipment and assistive devices (such as canes, walkers, wheelchairs, lifts, oxygen tanks, etc.) are easy to locate in an emergency and note their locations in your emergency plan. Have spare batteries for equipment that uses batteries. Have non-powered options for any equipment that will not work if there is no electricity. Keep written instructions on how to locate, operate, and move your medical and adaptive equipment in your kit.
  • Cell phone - Store emergency contacts in your cell phone and pack an extra charger, cord, or battery backup in your emergency kit.

If you have pets, have an emergency kit for them, as well. In the event that you must leave your home, have a plan for keeping your pet safe. Some emergency shelters and first responders will not handle pets, so plan for alternatives to taking them with you. This could include having a friend, family member, or neighbor come get them or look after them.

Learn more about what should be in your emergency kit from the Ohio Committee for Severe Weather Awareness.

Be a Prepared Caregiver

Older adults who rely on others for help with day-to-day activities, including those who live with Alzheimer's disease or another type of dementia, may be extra vulnerable during an emergency. Caregivers should have a disaster plan that includes the special needs of the loved ones they assist.

According to the National Institute of Aging, you should prepare to meet the needs of your family for three to seven days. This includes planning for interruptions in utilities such as water or electricity.

Additional Emergency Kit Supplies

Additional emergency kit considerations for caregivers include:

  • A pillow, toy, or other object that brings your loved one comfort;
  • Their favorite snacks and high-nutrient drinks;
  • Contact information and addresses for their health care providers;
  • Copies of legal, medical, insurance, and Social Security Information;
  • Extra medication;
  • Waterproof bags or containers to store documentation and medications; and
  • Any supplies or equipment needed to manage your loved one's general health and hygiene, including incontinence care.

Plan for Evacuation

Planning to shelter in place is important, but so is having a plan for if it is no longer safe to remain in your home. Relocating can be particularly challenging for someone living with dementia. Consider these tips to make an evacuation easier:

  • Know the locations of nearby emergency shelters;
  • Have a plan for getting to shelter, including arrangements for someone to transport you if you don't feel safe driving;
  • Take both your emergency kit and general supplies for your and your loved one's well-being; and
  • Have a plan for notifying neighbors, friends, and family about your location and condition.

Plan for When You Can't Be There

Plan for the possibility that you may not be with your loved one when an emergency happens.

  • Identify trusted neighbors or nearby family and friends who can help in a crisis; 
  • Give them a key to your loved one's home and a list of emergency phone numbers;
  • Let them know about your loved one's abilities and disabilities; and
  • Be sure to tell them if your loved one may have difficulty understanding what is going on or is likely to wander.

Store a recent photo of your loved one and copies of their medical documents on your phone to share with local police and emergency services, if needed.