By December 19, 2013 Read More →

Survival of the Elderly and Disabled

Written By: James C. Jones, EMT/CHCM

Jim07#1The challenges of surviving a sustained catastrophic event for the elderly and the disabled are almost totally ignored by the “prepper” community.  Survival recommendations and training are almost always directed at healthy, younger people who are at their maximum strength and health.  Most preppers have or will have elderly parents or relations that may suffer from arthritis, heat disuse, COPD, and dementia at some point. My wife and I both lived in the inner city with disabled parents for decades.  For us, evacuation was just out of the question.  We were not going to abandon our responsibilities regardless of risk.  A few years ago I participated in a FEMA sponsored workshop on community preparedness.  We knew that there are people who need oxygen, chemotherapy, medications, dialysis and other treatments to survive more than a week or two.  Even more are aged or crippled with MS and other diseases that prohibit them from accessing food and critical needs without aid.  What we learned at that event was that there was little the emergency services could do for these folks under major disaster situations.  It is estimated that the majority of those over 70 years of age and those who are functionally disabled or medically dependent will die within the first thirty-days of a full –scale national disaster.

If you are among the elderly or disabled or anyone important to you is, you need to adjust your plans accordingly.  If you have disabled parents, your whole survival plans are going to be limited and modified.  Evacuation may be impossible.  Rescue and defense may be the only option.  Disabilities (yours or other) and handicaps will reduce your chances, but it does not mean that you are doomed.  Realistic preparedness can provide a real chance for your survival regardless of conditions.

As we grow older (we all will) our capacity to carry loads for long distances is going to diminish.  In addition to muscle loss we are more prone to illness and sensitive to temperature extremes.  Heat diseases, COPD and arthritis may make any kind of “hiking” out of the question.  If you are living alone or with an aged partner you have two options.  First: If you can move to a safer location away from the city and high populations do so.  Second: have a plan to drive or be driven to a safer area well before situations get critical.   If these are not an option or unlikely plan to shelter in place as best you can. That means having water, food, warmth, medications and self-protection that works for you in your conditions.  Fire is your biggest threat to in place survival. Can you use a fire extinguisher?  You must have ways to escape a fire that works for you.  In the gravest extreme you still need to have some kind of evacuation pack.  Even if you can only carry or drag 5 to 10 pounds it’s far better than nothing.  A qt of water, medications, snacks, a flashlight a Space Blanket and a weapon will give you a big advantage.   If you can get a few hundred yards to some other shelter you have a chance.   Some perfectly healthy people will die from unpreparedness and giving up.  Some prepared and determined disabled folks will get through with a little luck and determination.

There are two classes of disability related to emergency situations.  We have the cooperative, but disabled who will aid in their own care to whatever extent they can and the uncooperative who may have dementia, or are just in violent denial.  This last category is very difficult to help. They may fight your efforts and even sabotage your plans and equipment.  Getting them to a care facility in advance is your best option, but keep in mind that many of these facilities were abandoned during hurricane Katrina and would be again.  They have good plans for limited time and area disasters, but not for massive collapse events. Otherwise, you are going to have to care for them as best you can while dealing with survival and defense priorities.  The cooperative disabled may be able to aide significantly in their own preparations and survival actions depending on the extent of their problems.  You must discuss these issues with them now.  Build up supplies of everything they need (as above) at their location and show them what to do.  Give special attention to oxygen and critical medications they need. Have a plan to take them to safety or to your safe location ahead of an event.  If possible make arrangements with neighbors for their care until you can get to them.  See the full article in a future American Survivor newsletter.

ColorLogoAuthor Bio:

James C. Jones was born in Chicago IL in 1941.  His early life situations required that he survive with little help at a very early age.  Survival skills for the streets of the Southside of Chicago and in the nearby woods and marshes developed a dedication to survival independence and self-reliance.  The sports club he organized in high school evolved into Live Free USA, ( a national not-for-profit organization that has advocated and educated for family preparedness and self-reliance for over 40-years.  The author has appeared on television and has written numerous articles for survival publications Mr. Jones is a certified Emergency Medical Technician, certified Hazard Control Manager and holds certificates in training management from the Langevin Institute in Canada and Safely Management from the American Society of Safety Engineers. He served as an award winning Safety and Environmental Manager for a Fortune 200 chemical manufacturer for two decades. He is currently retired and living in northwest Indian where he continues to write about survival and preparedness and self-reliance for Live Free’s American Survivor newsletter and website and conducts frequent lectures and classes.

He can be contacted at

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11 Comments on "Survival of the Elderly and Disabled"

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  1. Chuck Morrison says:

    Hey James, I haven’t talked to you in Years. I corresponded with you while in the Army at Ft Campbell, and then in college in Louisville, KY. I finished my degree in Analytical Geography (Best degree for figuring out what is really going on) and served as a USAF Disaster Preparedness Officer (Yep, I was a professional prepper) Now I am retired, living in Las Vegas, NV. I have thought about a lot of what you bring up, and have some solutions. (Example for oxygen you can use one of the portable concentrators with a solar (photovoltaic unit) and another unit to charge a battery for mobility. (Yep , I know the cost, but can’t help that. Take care, and anytime you have a problem, give me a shout. Not only am I a Disaster Preparedness Officer, but I am also a RN. Yep, never enough school. Take care and be well, Chuck

  2. Gayle says:

    We had a severe ice storm and a power outage here about two years ago. We were out of town, and my mom (85 with dementia) was in an assisted living facility. When the storm was severe, we headed back into town and then went to check on mom. The facility had no power and was severely understaffed with most of the residents gathered in the little living room that had a gas fireplace. There was low lights, the hallway wasn’t warm, but it was adequate. The individual apartments were dark (candles were out of the question for this population)and they were getting little cotton light blankets to put over the residents. Dementia care is comfort care. No one was comfortable, so there was lots of behavior issues with my mom leading them. We brought her home and it was a hard struggle. She was up in the middle of night not knowing where she was, wondering and waking everyone up. She was incontinent at times, she was demanding and not understanding of the situation. It was just a huge struggle despite that we were comfortable in our house, and the living room was warm. We were so glad when the power came back on and she could go back to her apartment community. That sounds terrible, but it was really a lot to deal with. I can’t imagine dealing with it on a long term basis.

  3. Susanne Reuss says:

    I am a senior and have made plans to shelter in place. When I realized there were circumstances where I might have to bug out – fire or earthquake came to mind – I packed my bug out bag in a rollerboard suitcase. I’m not planning to hike out to the wilderness and live off the land but I should be able to pull it far enough to get out of immediate danger and survive in relative comfort while I wait for rescue.

  4. JAS says:

    This is a major issue for a lot of people and unfortunately there is not much that can be done. I am 62, retired and good health, but my wife is 70 and dependent on thyroxin to live. While we keep a good supply on hand, we can not store enough to last forever. She is also handicapped and would not be able to walk very far. Our plan is to stay put and have devoted all of our preps to this. We could bug out if the roads were still open, but that will be very iffy. I know a lot of people that have made no plans, even though they are medically dependent.

    • teabag says:

      i relate. i’m 60 and also dependent on thyroid pills to live. hopefully the only crises we’ll have to face will be short-term, and our stockpiles will get us through. but we also have to make peace with the fact that most americans will perish from one cause or another in an end-of-the-world scenario. i suspect the survivors will suffer more than the deceased, as we will have plenty of company in the afterlife! all we can do is prepare as much as we can, and the best of luck to us all.

  5. grammyprepper says:

    Wisdom shared here. I have many elderly friends who have adjusted their ‘plans’ to compensate for their disabilities, such as the aforementioned rolling BOB, and moving further out if able to. I live far from my parents,but they are both in fairly good health, and have a lot of family close by should they require assistance. Dad is a retired police officer, so I don’t worry too much about them.

  6. travelingtweety says:

    My husband is a 100% disabled veteran. All our preparations have been built on the premise that we won’t be bugging out but sheltering in place.

    We live in Fairbanks, Alaska and our preps are mainly focused on surviving a winter without the luxuries we now have. Even though my husband is in a wheelchair, he can get around a bit. We’ve purchased a 3-wheel cycle for him and I have a coaster brake bicycle. We’ve included additional medications, food, water and an additional shelter (read greenhouse) in case something happens to the house.

    I would love to see more articles addressing this particular topic. Thanks for opening the door.

  7. Donna says:

    I’m glad to read this article, being close to 70 I try to prepare for both remaining in place and leaving if necessary. At home I have plenty of water and food for me and my pets. depending on the season, if I need to leave in the summer I have a 23′ camper in the words on a lake…off the grid. That would be impossible in the winter. I’m sitting out an ice storm right now. because I use a CPAP, I have my little Honda generator as well as an expensive battery made for CPAPS. I have plenty of fuel and I am armed. I am diabetic, insulin dependant, but I keep at least a months supply on hand and I could change my eating habits and probably cut down on my meds if my life depended on it.

    One advantage about being old is I’ve noticed since my hair turned white, I’m invisible to most people who see themselves as authorities. I doubt I’d be searched if I were driving out. Since age discrimination is real, I use it to my advantage.

    I live alone, my children are thousand of miles from me. But I travel a lot…around the world and in my camper. Last winter I drove my ’85 Toyota MH from ME to Oregon. I slept and felt very safe in truck stops. My pets were with me, and it found a bumper sticker that said, “I’m retired, go around me” as I crawled up mountain roads at 30 mph. I also had NRA and military stickers on the vehicle. Nothing on the MH indicated I was a woman traveling alone.

    While I certainly may not survive when SHTF , I think I have a pretty good chance

    By the way, I worked with elders and we made “Go Bags” they could grab if they were evacuated..flashlight, water, can opener, canned food, whistle, etc.

    Love all the suggestions. Wish I could meet other elders who continue to fight the good fight.

  8. Amy says:

    This is an excellent article. I have to care for my elderly mother so It does give me some things to work on and consider. Thanks.

  9. Betsy Buchanan says:

    I am one of the elderly and disabled I’m not helpless and I know things. Like how to prevent infection and/or cure it without antibiotics I can treat most of the more common diseases with out any modern medicine and I can teach people who are on oxygen how to survive without it, and even thrive without it. I know it sounds like I am bragging but it is all just little practical things we can all do. There is no magic in what I know how to do.

  10. jedi1111 says:

    You should consider submitting an article on these techniques.