Disaster Planning for Elderly and Disabled

disaster disaster planning elderly disabled

When disaster encompasses a community, our elders and the disabled or mobility challenged, are most vulnerable to its wrath, and the decisions made ahead of time can mean the difference between life and death.

According to The Administration for Community Living (ACL), “Older adults and people with disabilities have unique and special needs to consider, especially during a disaster. Each year, more than ten million people receive services under the Older Americans Act,”. They go on to state that delivery of these services largely depends on the efforts of volunteers and others who can plan ahead and do the following:

  • Assist at group meal sites and deliver meals to homebound older adults
  • Escort and transport older adults to a safer location or to health care services
  • Repair and weatherize the homes of low-income and frail older adults
  • Counsel in a variety of areas, including health, nutrition, legal matters, and financial concerns
  • Serve as long-term care watchdogs to help ensure the safety and well-being of residents in nursing homes, assisted living, and other facilities

ACL advocates across the federal government for older adults, people with disabilities, and families and caregivers. They fund services and support provided primarily by states and networks of community-based programs. And they invest in training, education, research, and innovation. Go to them for assistance in disaster planning, as obviously they have a breadth of support services to offer. In addition, they also manage various programs (authorized by several statutes), providing assistance in the following but not limited to:

  • Health and wellness
  • Protection of rights
  • Abuse prevention
  • Consumer control support
  • Facilitate action to strengthen networks of community-based organizations
  • Fund research, ad infimum.

The National Institute on Aging suggests that while everyone is at risk during a natural weather-related disaster or similar emergency like a fire, aging adults are especially vulnerable during these challenging times. Whether its physical assistance in moving to a safe zone or help in navigating a fire claim, being prepared will literally mean the difference between life and death, particularly for those who may have special medical or mobility needs.

For instance, in my family, we have a forty-two-year-old cousin who is developmentally disabled and completely deaf, with an aging, visually impaired, diabetic mother caring for him. To add to that disadvantage, they live in an area prone to flooding, which unfortunately puts them in the “especially vulnerable” category. So how can they (or should I say “she”) stay prepared and ahead of any potential disasters that could come their way? Let’s look to answer that question next.

Necessary emergency supplies for older adults

Having an emergency preparedness kit at the ready is an essential step to complete for either older adults or the disabled. At a minimum, to plan ahead, a kit should include:

  • At least a three-to-six-day supply of medications
  • Medical documents
  • Legal and other important documents
  • Water (one gallon per person per day for several days for drinking and sanitation): If you are on a well like we are, add at least a couple more water jugs for potable purposes.
  • Food (at least a several-day supply of non-perishable food)
  • Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert
  • Flashlight
  • First aid kit
  • Extra batteries and battery chargers
  • Whistle (to signal for help)
  • Dust mask (to help filter contaminated air)
  • Plastic sheeting and duct tape (to shelter in place)
  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags, and plastic ties (for personal sanitation)
  • Wrench or pliers (to turn off utilities)
  • Manual can opener (for food)
  • Local maps
  • Cell phone with chargers and a backup battery
  • Glasses and/or contacts and contact solution
  • Medical supplies like syringes or extra batteries

Should the disaster require an evacuation, experts suggest first ensuring your emergency kit is kept updated, stocked, and in an easily accessible location.

Second, take all the necessary time to practice an evacuation plan with family, friends, and neighbors to prepare for various scenarios.

Lastly, ensure that your “disaster team” has ample time to practice and learn how to safely leave your property, including how to turn off the water and natural gas.

Taking the time to prepare yourself or help a loved one in need before disaster strikes can be a matter of life and death.

In what season is the risk of falls in the elderly most likely?

Clearly, winter of course! I was taught never to assume, so I’ll restate that. If you are from the Midwest, Northeast, or up in the mountains somewhere, you will hands-down say winter must be the hardest on seniors and the disabled, thus resulting in way more falls than the rest of the year.

Harsh winter weather conditions create a challenging environment for this particular group of people. Snow and ice on sidewalks and driveways obviously increase the risk of slip and falls but add another layer of difficulty with fridged temps, causing muscles to tense up, reducing balance and flexibility, and that’s a recipe for a personal disaster.

I know from personal experience that once my muscles tense up and I start to lose my balance, I may not fall, but the jerking motions I make not to fall can throw my back out. Unfortunately, I fall (no pun intended!) in the “people with mobility issues” category. Sigh. Thankfully, I have my degree from “The” University of Michigan (U of M), so I get to work from my home office most days, especially when the winter storms start to hit Southeast Michigan – Greater Detroit area.

Over 14 million, or 1 in 4 older adults, report falling yearly. So how can we prepare best for this? Or set our loved ones up for success and a better quality of life?

Both older adults and their caregivers must prioritize fall prevention measures to mitigate the risk and potentially devastating consequences, including implementing safety modifications in the home environment, such as removing hazards, improving lighting, and installing grab bars and handrails. Regular exercise programs focusing on balance and strength can also help improve stability and reduce the risk of falls.

Disaster planning for elderly and disabled

The National Institute on Aging suggests that while everyone is at risk during a natural weather-related disaster or similar emergency, aging adults are especially vulnerable during these challenging times, and being prepared in advance will literally mean the difference between life and death, particularly for those who may have special medical or mobility needs.

Remember to consult The Administration for Community Living (ACL) for all your disaster planning information.

To wrap it up, being prepared in advance for natural disasters is crucial for the safety and survival of elderly and disabled individuals as they are especially vulnerable during such emergencies.