A disaster can occur at any given moment, so being prepared for future events is crucial.
For senior citizens, being prepared for an emergency situation is even more important, simply because most older adults have specific, unique needs such as medications and mobility devices.
Having an emergency kit prepared is the first step to safeguarding your valuables and your life in the event of an emergency or natural disaster.
So, how do you build an emergency kit specifically for seniors? – You start with the basics that should be in all emergency kits and then add your specific requirements such as medications, assistive devices and products needed for your healthcare and safety.
When a disaster strikes, the resources provided by emergency personnel will be distributed at a large scale because the demand will be high.
Anything we can do to prepare ourselves now will help mitigate the risk of possible injury and extend the time for resources to be poured in to the community.
Having the necessary supplies on hand to tend to basic wounds, evacuate, and/or safely shelter in place can make the transition of rebuilding our lives a lot easier.
Seniors living on their own or with a caregiver should have a kit prepared to meet their immediate needs and beyond.
Since there’s no sure-way to determine the exact magnitude of the emergency we may be faced with, we must plan to both evacuate and shelter in place.
In some cases it may be necessary to evacuate to a shelter, whereas in other cases, we may be ordered to shelter in place with the possibility of dealing with non-functioning utilities.
With that in mind, the following recommended items should be included in your senior emergency kit.
First Aid Kit
One of your main priorities post-disaster is to stay healthy and take care of any injuries because medical assistance may not be readily available.
Your ﬁrst aid kits should have at least the basic supplies to care for minor and major wounds. Keep two ﬁrst aid kits- one in your home and the other one in your car.
I can recommend this first aid kit by Be Smart Get Prepared. It has a collection of basic items you would need for almost any emergency. Again – make sure to include your own personal medications and special needs items.
Your ﬁrst aid kit should include the following items:
Basic sanitation and cleaning
- Antiseptic wipes
- Isopropyl Alcohol
- Hydrogen Peroxide
- Triple antibiotic ointment to prevent infection, such as Neosporin.
- Hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion for treating inflammation, bug bites, and itchiness.
- Oral analgesic gel
- Burn cream
- Aloe Vera
- Tea tree essential oil
- Hand sanitizer
- Eye drops
- Eye wash solution
- Saline solution
- Self-adherent elastic bandage, or elastic bandage with clips
- Non-adhesive gauze or pads to cover wounds or stop the bleeding
- Israeli compression bandage
- Medical tape
- Latex-free adhesive bandages, in several different sizes
- Butterfly bandages
- Triangular bandage
- Liquid bandage
- Flexible splint
- Medical-grade super glue
- Your personal prescription and over-the-counter medication, including an EpiPen. Make sure to rotate your medications as needed. Having expired medication is not advised nor recommended.
- Ibuprofen, Tylenol, aspirin, Benadryl and other pain-relievers. Make sure to properly mark your over-the-counter meds and rotate them prior to their expiration date.
- Activated charcoal pills
- Antidiarrheal medication and laxatives
- Liquid grape seed extract or any other cold medication of your choice
- Emergen-C packets for boosting your immune system
- Cough drops
- Antacids such as Tums. Consult your doctor if you have any medical conditions that could interfere with taking antacids.
- A printed list of known medical conditions, current medications, their prescribed dosage, and allergies. Make copies of your doctor’s notes and update these copies as necessary. It helps to include copies of your medical insurance for quick access.
- Protect these documents from liquid damage by keeping them sealed in a Ziploc bag or waterproof container.
- Lip balm / Chapstick
- Insect repellent
- A few salt packets, for electrolytes and water retention
- Instant cold ice packs
- CPR mask
- Scissors or trauma shears
- Fingernail clippers
- Large non-latex surgical gloves
- A space blanket (Mylar)
- Medicine cup or spoon with measurements on the side
- Magnifying glass
- Pure cotton towel
- Cotton balls and swabs
- Safety pins
- A needle and thread
- Roll of duct tape
- Small plastic bags
- A first-aid booklet or manual
- The First Aid app by the American Red Cross
You might also set up a Vial of Life in case first responders are called for something more serious. The Vial of Life quickly tells emergency personnel about the senior’s current medical conditions, medications, emergency contacts, and other critical information.
An evacuation kit, otherwise known as a bug-out bag, is the backpack you will take if you need to evacuate your home. Ideally, you should stock your backpack with enough supplies to sustain you for a minimum of 72 hours.
It’s recommended that you update your kits every six months to make sure nothing has expired or spilled. Review your kits in the spring and fall to include items appropriate to the upcoming season.
Your evacuation kit should include:
- Extra water and bottles made from durable plastic
- Iodine tablets or Aquamira for sanitizing water
- A portable water filter
- Remember you need at least ONE gallon of water per person, per day. These water sanitation methods will help you meet this minimum amount.
- Freeze-dried meals are made for long-term shelf storage. Our meals have a shelf life of 20+ years.
- Protein bars
- Oatmeal packets
- Some of your favorite non-perishable snacks and comfort foods
- Honey packets
- Bouillon cubes
- Plastic cups or paper cups, plates and spork
- A sturdy and sharp knife
- Knife sharpener (these ones are easy to carry)
- A lightweight cotton towel that can double up as a napkin
- Garbage bags
- Paper towels
- A change of clothes to match the season: summer/winter
- 2 pairs of undergarments, including socks and underwear
- 1 warm waterproof jacket/windbreaker
- A baseball cap, bandana, or beanie
- Flip flops or slippers
- Sturdy shoes, which can be clipped onto the outside of your backpack with a carabiner. I recommend waterproofing your shoes with this spray.
- Wool or cotton gloves
- Heavy-duty work gloves
- A plastic rain poncho
- A lightweight tarp or Mylar tent
- Space blankets or a Mylar sleeping bag
- A warm blanket
Light and Heat
- Flashlight and extra batteries
- Headlamp and batteries (these are ideal to free up your hands for other things)
- Military-grade chemical lights (those are the best choice but if you can’t get them to opt for glow-in-the-dark sticks)
- Waterproof matches or matches in a waterproof container
- Trick birthday candles
- Steel wool
- Cotton balls covered in petroleum jelly (seal them in a Ziploc baggie)
- Hand warmers
Health and Hygiene
- A first aid kit, such as one with the items recommended above
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- A roll of toilet paper (remove the center cardboard for easier storage and put it in a Ziploc baggie to keep it waterproof).
- Biodegradable soap
- Sewing kit
- Baby wipes / moist towelettes (these are great for staying clean when you can’t shower or use water)
- A microfiber travel towel (these are lightweight, they dry quickly and take up very little room in a backpack)
- Prescription glasses
- Face coverings
- An air mask to filter out dust and debris in the environment
- Important personal documents, such as birth certificates, copies of insurance policies, and vaccination records (store these in a waterproof container and keep extra copies on a USB drive)
- A written list of phone numbers for family members in case your cell phone isn’t working
- $200 in cash and in small change. If possible, include some coins as well
- Local map
- Hand-cranked or battery-powered radio
- NOAA weather radio
- Solar chargers for small devices and rechargeable batteries
- A few extra sets of rechargeable batteries
- A multi-tool
- Pen and paper
- A deck of cards
- A guidebook on local edible plants, basic survival, and emergency preparedness topics
- A book or a way to keep you entertained
The ideal location to store your evacuation kit is in a designated place, such as a mud room or an open closet near the most used entrance of your home.
Some emergencies, like earthquakes, are extremely unpredictable so keep your kit it in an easy-to-reach location where its access isn’t blocked by other items.
If you live in an earthquake zone, don’t leave your backpack in a closet with the door closed since the movement of the structure can be altered during a quake and jam the door shut— keep this in mind for your bedroom door as well.
Having a fully stocked bug-out kit will save you the trouble of having to build a separate kit for taking shelter in your home. In fact, preparing a new kit entirely is a bit inconvenient.
For this reason, consider your ﬁrst aid kit and evacuation kit as part of your shelter-in-place kit. Your shelter-in-place kit, commonly known as a bug-in-bag, should contain enough supplies to last you for a minimum of 14 days.
Your shelter-in-place kit should include:
- Water boxes with water treatment tablets
- Long-term freeze-dried food
- Dried food staples such as rice and beans
- Canned food (make sure to rotate them as necessary)
- Can opener
- Cooking set with fuel that is safe to use indoors
- Toilet kit
A safe place to store these essential bug-in items is in a dark and cool location with a stable temperature year-round, such as a kitchen pantry.
It’s not recommended to store your kits in a shed because the temperature ﬂuctuations tend to be extreme from summer to winter, causing spoilage and faster deterioration of your goods.
Where to Look for Free Emergency Kits for Seniors
Here are some resources where you can find free emergency kits for seniors:
- American Red Cross: They offer free emergency preparedness kits for seniors. You can contact your local Red Cross office for more information.
- Senior Safety App: They provide free emergency kits for seniors. You can visit their website for more details.
- Senior.com: They occasionally offer free emergency kits for seniors. Keep an eye on their website for any such offers.
- Ready.gov: This is a government website that provides information on how to prepare for emergencies. They don’t directly provide free kits, but they have a list of items that should be in an emergency kit and you may find organizations through their site that offer free kits.
- Local Community Centers and Senior Centers: Many local community centers and senior centers offer free emergency preparedness kits for seniors. You can contact your local community center for more information.
- Local Health Departments: Some local health departments provide free emergency kits for seniors. You can check with your local health department for more information.
- Non-Profit Organizations:
- Non-profit organizations. There are a number of non-profit organizations that provide free emergency kits to seniors. In addition to the Red Cross, mentioned above, some of the other organizations include:
The Salvation Army
The National Association of Area Agencies on Aging
The National Organization on Disability
Remember to verify the information from these sources as the availability of free kits may vary.
A Few Tips to Customize Your Emergency Kit
While the products mentioned above list the basic items you should add to an emergency kit, I encourage you to take it one step further and customize the kits based on your specific needs.
With aging, you may experience mobility, hearing, vision, or chronic health problems. If you have any of these conditions, here are some tips to keep in mind.
Mobility problems: If you are using a cane, a walker, or a wheelchair to move around, make sure you determine a home evacuation route that will get you to safety as soon as possible in the event of an emergency. Should you need to evacuate, make transportation arrangements long before an emergency occurs.
Your evacuation kit should include replacement pieces in case the walker or wheelchair breaks or gets a ﬂat tire. If you use an electric wheelchair I would recommend getting a standard wheelchair (if you don’t already have one).
An all-terrain wheelchair like this one would be best since you don’t know what conditions you will be having to live in and for how long.
Keep the manual chair with your emergency kit since you may not be able to keep the other one charged if there’s a power outage. If your only option is to evacuate with an electric wheelchair, make sure to keep an extra battery in your kit.
Health conditions: For those with chronic health conditions, there’s the possibility that you may need prescription medications daily or require the use of oxygen.
If this is the case, ask your doctor if it’s possible to get an extra amount that you can store in your emergency kit. If you’re given permission to do so, ask the doctor which is the best way to store the medication and take note of expiration dates.
If your medication requires refrigeration and it’s not possible to buy extra for storage purposes, ask your doctor for advice as to how you can obtain and keep up with your medication should an emergency cause your local pharmacy or healthcare facility to shut down.
If you’re using any other medical device, keep the serial numbers and operation manual in your Important Documents Folder in your emergency kit.
Cognitive impairment: If you or someone you care for has mild to severe cognitive impairment, you could leave sticky notes with special care instructions and clues to where the emergency kit is located so that it doesn’t get left behind.
Of course, if the cognitive impairment is severe enough that following written instructions is not something your senior loved one can do then it’s important to assign a relative, friend, or neighbor to help them evacuate.
Hearing problems: If you use hearing aids or cochlear implants, make sure to store an extra set of batteries in your kit, as well as a waterproof container to keep them protected in.
I recommend keeping the manufacturer’s information with the hearing aids or cochlear implants, in the case that repairs need to be made.
If you are otherwise hard of hearing or deaf, set up a phone alert system in order to stay up-to-date with the news and possible evacuation orders.
It’s a good idea to keep communication ﬂashcards handy, as well as a tablet or paper and pen, to make communication easier between you and emergency personnel.
Vision problems: Those who are visually impaired or blind need to take extra considerations when preparing for emergencies. It may help to mark some of the items in your emergency kit in Braille.
You could also keep an audio ﬁle of all the items you stored in your backpack and remember to mention expiration or rotation dates.
If you use any adaptive services, such as a communication device that requires the use of batteries, make sure to store an extra few sets in your backpack.
Also, consider keeping an extra cane next to your evacuation kit. If you use a guide dog, continue reading.
Pets and service animals: Some shelters have regulations against the entry of pets and animals. Determine which evacuation centers allow pets ahead of time and keep a pet emergency kit next to your evacuation kit.
Make sure to include enough food and potable water to last them a minimum of 72 hours, as well as a leash, ID tag, the vet’s contact information, poo bags, two dishes, a toy, and a blanket for them to sleep on.
Taking into account the needs you have, you should consider signing up for Smart 911, an organization that works to provide you with the most accurate and eﬃcient help during an emergency.
How Much Should These Kits Weight?
A ﬁrst aid kit should weigh little, considering you have included the basic essentials.
An evacuation kit should weigh as little as possible and as much as you can carry. For seniors, this might get tricky since it can become difficult to carry so much gear.
You may need to get someone to help you or get creative in the way that you plan to transport it yourself. These are some ideas: you can store all your supplies in a rolling backpack or you can attach it to the back of your wheelchair.
A shelter-in-place kit doesn’t have a weight limit. The benefit to riding the storm out at home is that you have a lot more storage space available and you have the capacity to set aside enough supplies to last you beyond the ﬁrst 72 hours.
The downfall to staying home is that you have to consider the probability of power outages (especially in extreme weather conditions) and the lack of other utilities.
Is it Better to Buy a Kit or Make Your Own?
Buying a kit might be a preferred option for those who are unable to gather all the individual items on their own.
Buying a kit saves you a lot of time and eﬀort, however, some people choose to create their own to include their preferred brands. In my opinion, buying a kit is worth the time and hassle spent.
I hope these tips were helpful to you as you prepare your emergency kits. Even if you can’t get all the items gathered at once, it’s necessary to start somewhere. Use this resource as a checklist that can be put together within a reasonable time frame.
A Big Thank You to Nadia at CrisisEquipped.com for sending in this article to us! Being prepared for an emergency is something many of us don’t do, but anyone who has been through a hurricane, earthquake, tornado or other disaster knows all too well the importance of being prepared.