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Should The Elderly Attempt to Bug Out?

Bugging out is a commonly discussed and planned event for the self-sufficient. Many preppers are well-acquainted with the concept, and thanks to an abundance of expert knowledge and insights to be found on the topic there are very few of us into prepping that don’t have a passable plan to bug out. Whether or not that includes a family or other people is dependent on one’s unique situation.

One thing I noticed amid all these well-laid plans, family packing procedures and carefully detailed travel itineraries is a lack of consideration for elderly family or group members and how that might affect your bug out. Plenty of discussion about children, but surprisingly very little about grandma, grandpa or your old neighbor, Tom.

This is a little odd when you consider most of us will have someone in our family that is getting upward in the years, probably not as capable or as spry as they once were and probably needs special care or attention for health concerns. More so than your average child, the frailty, lack of endurance and health care requirements of your average senior citizen can be daunting even in kind times. How much will this complicate your plans to get out of town and away from danger? Should seniors even attempt to bug out?

That’s the question we’ll be answering in today’s article.

Over the Hill and Out of Dodge

The answers to the question may be complex, but the concern for most of us is universal: someone we love or care about is elderly, and simply put significantly more vulnerable to the world at large, triply so in times of disaster. You see it all the time; anything really bad happens, whatever it is, and a significant part of the casualties will usually be the very young and very old. Sad, but true.

1.) For all following discussion, we will assume that our theoretical elderly person wants to live, i.e. bug out, survive.

2.) The question is now: are elderly people capable of bugging out? Is bugging out in any form too much of a strain on an elderly person’s constitution?

3.) As a corollary to #2, regardless, is it best to attempt to bug out with elders in tow, or should emphasis on response be to shelter in place if achievable?

4.) There will be some seniors who are completely aware of the situation and their chances, and would rather stay put to weather a crisis.

The way I see it, that is the crux of the issue. In the following sections I will proffer what I think are the answers to those questions, and additional considerations that will affect the planning and execution phases of your bug out when you anticipate a senior coming along.

Assuming Grandpa Hasn’t Seen Enough…

Per #1, I am writing assuming your senior citizen in question actually wants to live. Severe stress and trauma can affect people in strange ways, and I can speak from intimate experience I have seen the elderly simply lose the will to keep living after a traumatic experience. Senescence, you’ll sometimes hear it called.

It is grim to contemplate, but you must be prepared for the possibility that the person you are trying to save may simply be totally unwilling to go on, or attempt to live through whatever is ahead. I cannot even attempt to advise you on how to proceed under such a revelation except to say you must consider how you will handle it before it happens, no matter how unlikely it may seem.

If you are dealing with a family member, you may decide ahead of time how to respond. Some will not abide by such a decision, whether or not they think their relative is in their right mind, and will force them to evacuate. Others may respect their wishes as an end-of-life decision, however sad and stressful it is to leave them to their fate.

If you are dealing with a neighbor or stranger, you must quickly decide how much time you are willing to, possibly, squander on attempting to reason with the unreasonable. There is a hierarchy of responsibility, and you should always be attentive to the needs of your family and group first.

These are some of the most troubling, painful factors in this equation, but they must be weighed now. A little time spent contemplating what you will do beforehand will prevent an impasse when time is of the essence later.

Can the Elderly Handle Bugging Out?

There is a lot to unpack in that question. The broad answer is “yes.” The fine answer is “it depends on the answers to a lot of other questions.” A few of those questions are, “what is the mode of travel?” “What is the overall physical condition of our elder?” “Do they have significant health problems, and what level of care and intervention is required?”

Overall, yes, elderly are more than capable of bugging out to avoid the worst of a crisis so long as the voyage accommodates them physically, more or less. Compared to other adults and adolescents, seniors are more vulnerable to everything: they fatigue faster, are more likely to be injured, more vulnerable to dehydration or malnutrition, more vulnerable to exposure, and on and on. None of this means that our seniors are too fragile to move or mess with, only that we must keep the stresses and intensity of the process even more closely within the green to make sure we don’t wind up with a casualty.

Regarding the mode of travel, this is probably the biggest concern. It is no trouble to load grandma, grandpa or Old Man Tom into the SUV along with the rest of the family and hit the road. A little more crowded, but otherwise no problem. But what happens when you must leave the vehicle, perhaps a long way from your destination? What if you have to bike, or walk? How will Tom’s bad back hold up then? Grandpa is as frail as an icicle and grandma needs a scooter or wheelchair to get around at all. Now suddenly you have a major problem.

With good route selection and a little luck you may be able to push them for miles in a wheelchair. But when the road gets rough, impassible or disappears completely you will have to carry them over or around an obstruction, if you can. How long can you do that? How many strong, able bodied men and women in your party can share the burden? Can you fashion a litter, two-man seat or some other contraption to facilitate moving them? All of these problems will pile up quickly and must be answered decisively before you embark on such an undertaking.

I present none of this to make you reconsider taking your elders when you bug out! We should honor our elders who paved the way for us, and take care of them in their time of need. Such is our duty. I bring these concerns up only so they do not sneak up on you when the chips are down, lives are on the line and people are counting on you.

Now, not all seniors are created equal! Some spry old ones maintain their vim and vitality well into their golden years, either through good genetics, strict adherence to diet and self-care or just plain providence. If you are fortunate enough to have a senior possessed of such moxie, count yourself lucky, as they will be most likely capable of contributing to the group, to say nothing of reducing your concerns.

Assuming all things or equal, they will not quite be able to keep a hard pace as long as the younger people, and they probably will not fare as well if given a pounding, but you won’t have to treat them with kid gloves either. Have them strap on their BOB and fall in! Just keep in mind no matter what they may say, they will need to hydrate more often and rest a little longer. Don’t let their overconfidence in their own physique affect your good judgment.

Yeah, But is that Smart?

Regarding the question of should we attempt to bug-out with an elderly person or change gears and attempt to bug-in or shelter in place with them is somewhat trickier to answer, considering the variables affecting that call are enormous, mutable and impossible to weigh in totality ahead of time. To make that process a little easier, let’s prioritize.

First, assess the risk presented by the event that has prompted you to bug out: if there is a high probability of death or a severely degraded survival conditions if you stay, grab the old folks and go assuming you are able. If you have fair to good chances of survival if you stay, and have other preparations in place to facilitate that you might choose to stay and hope for the best.

Second, what kind of health issues or persistent injuries are affecting our elder, here? A regimen of pills and lotions is one thing, paraplegia, insulin or oxygen requirements and dialysis are a whole ‘nother conversation. Even in a grid-down scenario, taking someone dependent on modern medicines or medical procedure to stay alive would be ill-advised to leave the area where they are provided, or may be provided.

Deprived of insulin, some diabetics face certain death. Insulin requires refrigeration. If you cannot furnish it at your bug-out location, they may feel taking their chances waiting for rescue or the establishment of emergency medical areas is their best chance. What if they flee with you, only to turn around and be unable to get back to their life saving treatments in a few days?

Some seniors may have special needs to even move around, or require bulky machines and apparatus

Third, something else you must consider; no matter how bleak it looks, most disasters will only force an area to go 48-72 hours without some type of aid or assistance. Unless you are dealing with a truly regional catastrophe or larger, help will be on the way. You might be best served to hunker down, and after the danger passes make getting help or evacuation for our affected senior a priority for rescue personnel.

Ultimately, you’ll have to size up the situation, and weigh the odds of your senior surviving your bug-out plan against your chances of surviving if you stay put with them, and do so quickly. Once again, wargaming a few different scenarios now will prevent analysis paralysis when the adrenaline is flowing and people are screaming.

And a Few Old Folks Are Just Stubborn

You always knew it would come to this. Your old man is not leaving his home to burn up in the encroaching wildfire. A prepper, like you (wonder where you got it from), he has all confidence in his fire breaks, anti-fire foam system, hi-flow hose and pump (pool fed, naturally) and his no-blade-of-grass-standing removal of all foliage within a hundred foot radius of the house. Now your family, wife, kids and dogs are waiting in the driveway for you and grandpa to come out. The horn has beeped twice.

There is always a chance that your elders, whoever they are, may have a different idea about their chances in the situation staying put. They may even be entirely reasonable and rational, but that makes little difference: you think they should go, they think it would be best if you stayed. Impasse. Standoff. Showdown.

The precipice of disaster is no time for bickering. A decision must be made and the sooner the better. You might try begging, coercion and persuasion. You could threaten, cajole and extort. If you are bigger and stronger, you might even physically abscond with them and worry over Thanksgiving later. This is a prickly one.

Personal agency is an intensely guarded right, and when you have two nominally “in charge” people disagree over something as high-stakes and stressful as evacuation ahead of looming death and destruction tempers will flare. Accept it. Bottom Line: you will have to make a decision and then act. Are you willing to potentially lose a relationship to possibly do what is best for someone? How strongly do you feel that people should be able to make their own decisions, no matter what others might think?

This is potentially the worst predicament to find yourself in with a senior because they are making a rational, informed decision, not being constrained by health, infirmity or anything else. If you do end up dealing with this situation, you have my sympathies. Perhaps your only chance of heading this off ahead of time is to come to an agreement with the concerned parties ahead of time when fluffy clouds roll across an impossibly blue sky and birds are chirping. Stay or go, as a family/group. That might prevent a standoff.

If You Are a Senior

If you getting up in years, and perhaps have a partner or spouse about the same age, but have no one younger to count on when disaster strikes, family or otherwise, you’ll have to make some very tough decisions, and they should be the result of sound assessment of your capabilities.

If you and your spouse are infirm, ill or not particularly fit, bugging out via any kind of physically strenuous method will be even more perilous, perhaps impossible. Seniors are also significantly more vulnerable to human predation. Face it: no matter how good a shape you are in, and how quick you may still be, the odds are not in your favor in a fight.

If you are still able to drive, vehicular extraction is your best option, but it will be limited by all the possible obstacles discussed here and elsewhere. It is not a sure thing, but your nest net will be to get out and ahead of a bad situation the moment you can to have the best chance of roads being passable. And don’t forget to pick a suitable handgun that’s easy to maneuver, particularly if you have arthritis or other conditions.

Staying put and bugging in if you have no one to aid you is in all probability your best bet if you have confidence the event is survivable at your current location. As I mentioned above, the majority of major crises will begin to stabilize after the first 48-72 hours, so if you want to double that and lay up enough supplies and provisions to last a week on your own grid-down, you will statistically be able to weather nearly any event.

Lastly, think solutions! If your biggest shortcoming as an aging prepper is that you just don’t have many social contacts you could count on when times are troubled, you can fix that! Get active and known in your local church, or another group of like-minded people and make friends. Explain your concern and see if you cannot get a commitment from them to help in a bad situation. You will have plenty to offer in return, perhaps special skills or wisdom. Whatever the case may be, cultivating social networks is just another skill you can put into practice at any age. Don’t take it lying down!

Going solo and being self-sufficient as a senior has unique challenges, but so long as you are capable of living independently they are beatable, you’ll just need to play to your strengths and against your weaknesses.

Conclusion

Senior citizens have unique needs and physical limitations that will often complicate any bug-out plan. These limitations are not insurmountable, and some can be easily accommodated with a little extra pre-planning. If you have elderly family or anticipate having to help an elderly neighbor when the SHTF, be sure your plans are taking them in to consideration.

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About Charles Yor

Charles Yor is an advocate of low-profile preparation, readiness as a virtue and avoiding trouble before it starts. He has enjoyed a long career in personal security implementation throughout the lower 48 of the United States.

10 comments

  1. I anticipate a similar problem. My wife and I are aged 80 and 84 respectively. We live on the outskirts of a relatively large city and probably should leave if SHTF. We do own a much more secure county location to go to. Unfortunately my wife has way TOO MANY cats which she loves; and I am positive that she would strongly resist any attempt of mine to get her to leave them behind. Most of the cats are outdoors and any attempt to round them up would , I fear, be futile. What can I do if I am convinced that the situation demands that we bug out?

    • Hello, Carl. You might want to assure your wife that although we deeply love our cats and dogs, they are usually quite capable of living without our help, especially our cats, and would probably be more than able to survive for awhile until you get back. I have pets too, and believe it or not, I really do worry about my fish. I worry about how they’ll get by without being fed, or without an electric pump and filter. But if it were only for a few days it’d probably be okay. I also worry about my husband, who’s not very healthy at all. And my elderly parents. And I’m no spring chicken myself, at 60. Let’s hope that by the grace of God, if it ever comes down to it we will all be able to find the wisdom, fortitude and stamina to make it, and help others along too.

    • Like the old saying about herding cats. LOL
      Not going to happen.

    • Carl, I would suggest to you to offer to help her make preparations for the outdoor cats, and preparations to take the indoor cat with you if the need arises. As was pointed out, cats that are used to being outdoors can fend for themselves fairly well most of the time. However, if they are used to getting some regular assistance, such as extra food and just general human contact, it will be a bit more difficult for them.

      But just like humans, preparations can be made ahead of time, and the cats (well, not trained, exactly, lol) can be ‘introduced’ to the preps in an advantageous way, so they will know they are available and will likely use them if necessary if you have to leave.

      Things like some low profile shelter areas in various places nearby that will be above any flood waters, protected from predators such as the other pets that might be running around loose in such a situation, provided with a large (for them) supply of water (a dispenser type waterer with a very large reservoir), food in the same manner, bedding, and the other things that cats need, want, and like.

      Although I am not an experienced cat person, I do know they prefer to be ‘higher up’, and want to be able to see from a point of safety, with access to even better protection.

      I will leave the rest to you, as I really do not know cat needs that well. But the thing is, is you help your wife set things up so she can be confident that the cats will be able to be as safe as it is possible to make them when something happens and you must evacuate, she is much more likely to go. Not to mention, even if you do not evacuate, the same preps will help the cats cope and be safe without as much risk to you and her, and if (very likely) the cats decide they are safer ‘outside’ than around people when things get squirrelly.

      Just my opinion.

  2. Not to be a smart aleck, but the answer is “It depends”.
    We are seniors, right at the 70 mark.
    I’m in pretty decent shape, but my wife can’t walk very far.
    If we have to bug out, the only chance we have is our 4X4 diesel pickup. And even that means being among the first out. Our range with it is between 450 and 600 miles on one fill-up, depending on traffic. We do keep the tank at 3/4 or more at all times.
    We are not close to any large cities, so that’s a plus for us.
    No one knows what will happen in the future. (except Him)

  3. I’m 62 with an 81 year old mom to worry about that lives in a high rise “retirement” apartment. She doesn’t get around well without her rolling walker. She is what I would call frail, but she insists on being in her own apartment, and that is that. We have discussed her evacuating the building if something happens, which are numerous. Fire, train derailment (300 feet from a railroad track), prolonged power outage (3 or more days), etc. are quite possible disasters for her building. She says she is NOT going to go down the 8 floors of stairs if she had to evacuate. I live 2 miles from her and would not be able to get there in time to help her, and some of the others in her building are somewhat capable to help her, but most are not. She wouldn’t have much choice if the fire department or police came in to help residents evacuate.
    My husband is 64 with shoulder problems and is Type 2 diabetic on insulin. I have a problem with my back and legs. Not exactly in the best of shape, but with 2 vehicles we would be able to go somewhere. If we had to go on foot, well, that would be another matter for me to deal with. Personally, if I don’t have to bug out, I’m not. I will deal with whatever comes down the line. Don’t get me wrong, I am not and will not give up, but I am in God’s hands and if it’s my time, I don’t have anything to say about it. I am as prepared as I can be at the moment, and it will be what it will be. Currently getting ready for winter here in Central Illinois. God knows what he’s doing, and I’m just going to do what I can do to keep going under His guidance.

  4. Being 65, moderately disabled, medication dependent, and always short of money, I have many of the challenges listed in the excellent article. However, I am a prepper and have been (under one title or another) for 50 years. So I am ready to evacuate if I need to, if it is the advisable thing to do, and it can be done within the framework of the preps and plans I have.

    I have many alternatives myself, and have family and friends that will be here to help if humanly possible. So my chances of a successful emergency relocation are very high. If the event happens to be one where I should evacuate, but cannot for whatever reason, I am prepared to shelter in place for a long time and face the consequences of it not being the best choice. And I am prepared for the worst case scenario. That of not making it. Part of my prepping is to always be right with God, so if it is my time, I do not have to worry about making amends, or justifying my life to God at that moment. I am ready as I can be, now, and all the time. So if I die, I will be able to die with confidence.

    My family and friends know all this, and while they would do their utmost best to prevent it, if they cannot they will grieve at my loss, but will accept that I, and they, had done everything possible to prevent it, knowing that I went with my heart at ease.

    That is me. The only reason I am posting it is to point out that people can evacuate, or be evacuated, that will have a very difficult time doing it on their own, or even doing it with help that is not prepared to actually do it. I have equipment that others can use to help me evacuate, or use to evacuate me in the easiest possible way for them.

    My game cart is set up to carry injured or disable people if necessary. And still carry most of my most needed gear. (with caches at several places so if I cannot take it all with me/them, I still have more that can be accessed. Some of it with those that would likely be helping) The game cart will go, with my gear on it and me pushing/pulling it with in ways I have set up to make it as easy on me as possible, so many more places than a conventional un-powered wheelchair, most powered wheelchairs and scooters, and just about anything except a specialized off-road tracked ‘wheelchair’.

    And I (or anyone else) can be hauled on it places where the things listed above cannot go. (It is also a way to carry small children, and to give older children the occasional rest when staying on the move is necessary.)

    But a game cart is not the only thing possible. Think outside the box a little. I have the means to cross some pretty significant water obstacles. And travel in heavy and deep snow. Again, myself if I can, with help, or by being moved by others.

    It is a matter of thinking through the situation, coming up with the methods, and obtaining them, and making highly adaptable plans to carry out the plans. If the person can be included in the planning, so much the better. They will be much more likely to go along with them if they are. But even if they cannot, if it can be pointed out at the moment that you are prepared to take them with you with minimum risk to them and effort on their part, they will be much more likely to go. Especially if the plans for them include ways for them to help, so they do not feel helpless or any more beholden than necessary. If you can make them feel like they will be of more help to you than trouble, then, again, they are much more likely to go, since they are helping you in the process.

    Think outside the box, push the envelope a bit, and get things ready now, and many of the stresses and problems of making some hard decisions can be lessened significantly.

    Just my opinion.

  5. It is pretty to think that it is a choice. Bugging out is a low survivability option, and the only thing in its favor is that not bugging out is sometimes even lower survivability.

    If you plan to bug out on foot, then an elderly person who can’t keep up is a liability. The “pushing a wheelchair” or “carrying them” thought is a pipe dream. If you try it, the odds approach certainty that you will fail, and everyone will die. You will have to dump most of your supplies, and your progress will be much slower, and your ability to deal with “unexpected events” mostly eliminated.

    If you plan to bug out via vehicle, then the elderly person’s limitations are much less of an impact. The problem is, that unless you are one of the first few out, the odds that you will be trapped in a permanent traffic jam approaches 100%. Then all the joys and low odds of bugging out on foot land on you.

    And when I talk about bugging out, I am talking about going some place where you will be safer than where you started, and where you have supplies stashed. if this place can’t sustain the elderly person, then it does little good even if you manage to get them there. And if you don’t have a location to go to, then you are not bugging out. You are fleeing.

    I know it is terrible to contemplate, but unless they are as fit as you are, having someone elderly “bug-out” with you is a likely death sentence, not only for them, but for you as well. If you have someone like that who is willing to bug out, you will need to plan on using a vehicle, and leaving at the first hint or rumor of trouble even if you end up turning around and returning home several times. And make the decision that if the vehicle can’t move any more, than the elderly stay with the vehicle. This needs to be agreed to in advance, and your supplies should support this.

    Getting to this agreement will be very unlikely, which means, that the best decision may well be to NOT bug out.

  6. for most elderly and even the not so elderly, their health would probably bar them from bugging out, sorry but its just a fact of life, as my late mother in law used to say ” old age does not come alone”!!

  7. Being in the senior home care business we help those with physical and or mental handicaps to be ready for emergencies, and sometimes evacuation, it does not necessarily have to be an exercise of speed or endurance. Putting yourself in their situation can assist you in helping them prepare.
    Obviously pre-planing (plan A,B & C) with family/friends or caregiver, preparing and pre-packing and loading supplies (as reasonable as possible and for the most likely events) into bug out bag(s), totes, or vehicle should be done and at the ready at all times, and of course this should be done way ahead of your areas particular common possible events. Then if possible leave the area before it is critically necessary.
    Don’t forget, necessary medicines, medical equipment or pets, yes prep for pets too. Where are they bugging out to, are they going to an out of area 2nd home, relatives or friends home, or to a shelter? Are pets welcome? If pets are not welcome what is the solution? Will there be electricity for medical equipment? Is there assistance and is it handicapped friendly? What if the event is long term?
    With poor health and mobility, making small steps with dedicated planning and effort, over time will provide peace of mind and reduce the stress of the possibility of being stranded in a no win situation if they cannot evacuate. Helping seniors get and be prepared to evacuate takes time and planning but can help make them as self sufficient (with possible assistance) as much as possible should they need to get out of Dodge.

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