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Published on May 27, 2020

How to Prepare Aging Loved Ones for an Emergency

two women embracing

Recent disasters across the country, from wildfires to hurricanes, are an uncomfortable reminder that emergencies close to home can turn our worlds upside within a moment’s notice.

While it’s important for everyone to take precautions to prepare for a worst-case scenario, it’s especially crucial to consider how seniors and aging loved ones will stay safe and healthy during an emergency.

Beyond basic needs, many seniors rely on readily available prescription medications, special dietary accommodations, help with mobility and the familiarity of home – all of which could be compromised in a disaster.

Barb Jensen, trauma and preparedness program manager at EvergreenHealth, says following a few simple tips can help caregivers, family members and seniors prepare for the worst to ensure the best outcomes.

Tip #1 - Educate Yourself and Your Loved Ones

A recent study published by the American Journal of Public Health found that two-thirds of the seniors surveyed:

  1. had never participated in any disaster preparedness educational program
  2. were not aware of many relevant resources available to them.

It’s important to educate yourself and your loved ones about the risks in your region; in the Pacific Northwest, we are no stranger to windstorms, power outages, flooding and wildfires—and of course, earthquakes are a significant concern.

To prepare for these situations, attend a Red Cross Disaster class, become Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) trained, get first aid- and CPR-certified, learn how to Stop the Bleed or register for EvergreenHealth’s emergency preparedness classes.

Utilizing these types of resources will make you more equipped to care for your loved one in the event of a disaster.

Tip #2 - Make a Plan

The study also found that two-thirds of the seniors surveyed had no emergency plan in place.

It is critical to your loved one’s safety that you work together to outline the basics, starting with how they will communicate with the rest of the family and where they will go if evacuation is necessary.

Creating an emergency response plan will help to ensure that you and your loved one know what steps to follow in an emergency.

If your family member receives care from an assisted living community or home health care agency, find out how the organization responds to an emergency.

Designate backup or alternative providers that you can contact in the event of a disaster.

Tip #3 - Gather Supplies

Help your family member find a safe place to store essential items:

  • water (at least two gallons per person per day)
  • food
  • medications
  • cash
  • extra batteries for important devices (such as hearing aids)
  • copies of prescriptions and important documents.

Plan as if they were going to be on their own for 10-14 days.

Daunting, yes - but doing a few things at a time, step by step, will allow you to build a good emergency cache of supplies for your loved ones, should they need them.

For a supply checklist to guide your planning process, check out

Tip #4 - Practice

None of your plans will be successful unless you and your loved one know and understand your roles.

The more you prepare together, the more you successful you’ll be in making emergencies survivable and tolerable.

For example, help your family member identify two ways to escape from every room, and practice this escape plan at least twice a year so they feel comfortable with the process.

If your loved one has mobility limitations or is in a wheelchair, discuss with your care providers the best strategies for evacuation.

It’s never comfortable to think about the worst, but careful planning, open communication, and commitment to preparedness will make a significant difference in the event of an emergency for both you and your loved ones.

For more information and helpful resources to get your started, learn more about preparing for an emergency.

Barb Jensen Meet the Expert

Barb Jensen, MD

Barb Jensen is the manager of trauma services and in charge of emergency preparedness at EvergreenHealth.

She’s had a lifelong passion for preparedness, and has a master’s level certification as a healthcare emergency professional.

Barb is also a member of the Washington State Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT).