Preparing our loved ones and ourselves for emergencies has always been an important way to enhance peace of mind and help ensure safety in a dangerous situation. Planning ahead and sharing simple information can help ease the minds of family members, especially those of older loved ones.
Meeting older adults' needs during an emergency
Discuss these issues with your loved one's caregiver(s), or with your family, to ensure that all involved parties are prepared to:
- Follow the facility's (or family's) disaster plan. Make sure you have a current copy of your adult care facility's plan, that the plan is communicated to the staff, and that there are practice drills.
- Evacuate older adults, including those who are bedridden, wheelchair bound, or have limited mobility, those who are unable to hear or follow directions, and those with other special needs.
- Transport the residents/clients to a safe place, preferably a designated location that relatives and emergency contacts are aware of, and immediately notify relatives or emergency contacts if relatives are not reachable. The provider should have a plan for appropriate back-up transportation.
- Provide or arrange alternate care if necessary.
- Make use of appropriate and accessible first aid kits.
- Recognize signs and symptoms in individuals that may indicate a life-threatening situation and get emergency medical assistance immediately.
- Speak reassuringly (phrases like, "you will not be left alone," "you will be taken care of and protected") to decrease fear and anxiety.
If you use an in-home provider, or if your loved ones live independently
If your older loved one is cared for at home, or if he or she lives independently, you should consider creating a family disaster plan. Additionally, create an emergency communications plan with the in-home provider by:
- Choosing an out-of-town contact your family or household will call or email in order to check on one another if a disaster occurs. It is sometimes easier to call long distance than to call locally after a disaster.
- Keeping the caregiver's cell phone number with you. If the caregiver does not have a mobile phone, you may want to consider providing one.
- Providing a list of all family and emergency contact numbers.
- Asking your loved ones to inform you if they are traveling, and to bring with them the list of contacts.
- Assembling an emergency supply kit including items such as: a change of clothes for each family member; emergency blankets; first aid supplies; copies of important family documents; water and nonperishable food; a supply of necessary medications (check expiration dates regularly); a battery-powered radio or television with extra batteries (replace batteries regularly); protective undergarments; and hygiene supplies.
Older adult care emergency checklist
Make sure the care facility/provider has a written safety/emergency plan that is communicated to all staff, residents/clients, family members, as well as to local police, fire, and emergency medical services (EMS) personnel. A written plan for the evacuation of older adults should include:
- How residents/clients and staff will be made aware of an emergency
- Primary and secondary evacuation routes
- A designated place where residents/clients and staff will meet immediately after evacuating, and a plan for how attendance will be taken
- A designated location to which the residents/clients can be transported
- Roles of staff members
- A designated contact person at the center for family members to speak with in case of an emergency
- An alternate exit in case of fire
- Well-maintained and appropriately placed fire extinguishers, smoke detectors, and carbon monoxide detectors
- First aid kits available and staff properly trained to administer first aid
- Emergency supply kits
- Back-up supply of day-to-day and emergency medications
- Evacuation drills conducted monthly during various hours of operation, including evening and/or night hours
- Exit stairways equipped with railings, and appropriate handicapped-accessible exits
- Corridors, aisles, and approaches to exits that are kept uncluttered at all times
- Access to telephones
- Emergency telephone numbers for the fire department, local police or sheriff, poison control center, and EMS/ambulance service posted next to each telephone
- Up-to-date emergency contact information that is accessible in hard copy. Remember to communicate with your provider if this information changes
- A security system for limiting access to the facility
Many of the tips listed above are simple to act on and can provide a great deal of emotional security for older loved ones, family members, and professional caregivers alike.
“Seniors.” Ready.gov, last updated February 18, 2014, accessed March 4, 2014.
“Prepare For Emergencies Now: Information for Older Americans.” Federal Emergency Management Agency, published August 24, 2006, accessed March 4, 2014.
“Disaster Preparedness For Seniors By Seniors.” American Red Cross, last revised July 2009, accessed March 4, 2014.
This material is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice or used in place of consulting a licensed medical professional. You should consult with your doctor to determine what is right for you.