Prepping with senior citizens poses some challenges, and many benefits as well.
An elderly person may no longer be able to physically contribute heavily to the manual labor required on a sustainable prepper retreat, but he or she possesses decades of knowledge and skills that can help guide the family to enhance their overall chances of survival.
Determining what exactly defines a senior citizen can be a bit tricky. Gone are the days when a grandma was always a little old woman with gray hair.
Today, thanks to modern medicine and the increased longevity of our population, many mamaws and papaws are very physically fit and leading extremely productive lives – chopping wood is a breeze for some men well into their sixties.
A group of riding grandmas at a horse camp I frequent are still saddling their own horses and hitting rugged trails even though some are now at least 70 years old!
But, not every senior citizen has been blessed with ample good health. Life will not be easy during a long-term disaster, and it will likely be a lot harder for the very old and people with disabilities.
This article will address the prepping needs of three different types of senior citizens:
- the “I’m not ready for the rocking chair yet, but I don’t run three miles a day on the treadmill anymore either,” crowd,
- relatively healthy and mobile senior citizens who will ride out the apocalypse with their self-reliant loved ones,
- and for the elderly who live in a nursing home who will have to make it on their own until a loved one can reach them after the SHTF.
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Senior Care Considerations Will Impact Your Overall Prepping Plan
The challenges associated with caring for a senior can be significant, and if you’re not prepared for them, they can easily throw your pre-planned disaster response into disarray.
Things that are easy enough to achieve when dealing with healthy adults or even children might not be viable when going through the same with a senior.
Concerning material provisions, what food you choose for your stockpile, the amount of medical supplies you include, and even how you structure your bug-out bags will all be impacted by the fact that you’re caring for an elderly person.
You’ll also need to keep on hand various specialized items that wouldn’t normally be called for. Adult diapers, for example, are an essential consideration if the senior in your care suffers from incontinence.
Additionally, seniors are more susceptible to both injury and infection, so you’ll need to be especially careful in how you go about handling them.
Most preppers already know that minor injuries can take on a life-threatening significance in an SHTF situation, but the risks will be further multiplied when a senior suffers them.
Similarly, procedures for physically moving an adult out of a dangerous situation may need to be modified for use with the elderly in order to prevent strains, bruises, and fractures.
Even considering something as straightforward and simple as bugging out by car can take on new implications when traveling with an older family member. They might not be able to sit upright comfortably or be able to recline under the circumstances.
One major consideration is that seniors routinely have to use the bathroom and often with urgency. An “accident” in a cramped and packed vehicle can turn an already-stressful event into a nightmare for all involved.
Senior Citizen Medical Preps
The medical aspect of prepping is generally the most difficult for ever family focused on developing a comprehensive self-reliance plan that will help them survive a doomsday disaster.
The physical needs that must be addressed without the aid of professional caregivers in increased tenfold when the SHTF health planning also includes senior citizens or loved ones with chronic medical conditions.
The daily medical needs of an elderly (and anyone of any age who requires constant medication) will be a massive hurdle during a survival situation.
Stockpiling as much prescription as the laws allow is the first step – but the doctors, insurance companies, and pharmacies will not be sympathetic to your desire to prep for a coming disaster.
Senior citizens and their loved ones should speak with their doctors to develop a plan for weaning off prescription medications and utilizing natural or over-the-counter medications as substitutes during a long-term disaster.
Be prepared for a shocked or disapproving reaction from the medical professional, but do not allow rudeness or mocking of your SHTF planning deter you from accomplishing this important survival goal.
In some cases, over-the-counter variations of prescription medicines could be readily available and affordable. Vitamins that can help strengthen the body against some health woes also exist and could help keep the senior citizens, and the rest of the family, in optimal health.
Some of the needed medications might need to be kept cool, like insulin, which poses another SHTF medical preps hurdle. The power grid will undoubtedly fail during nearly every type of long-term disaster.
Your survival plan must include some type of off-grid refrigeration option if keeping a stockpile of medications below room temperature is necessary.
Building an “icehouse” using Styrofoam padded doors and walls and buckets with firm-fitting lids that contain frozen water, is one low-cost option for an off-the-grid refrigeration unit.
Stockpiling fuel for a generator to keep a refrigerator running will run out eventually, invest in a solar generator when the prepping budget permits you to expand your power options during a long-term disaster.
Senior citizens living and prepping on their own will find solar generators to be lightweight enough to maneuver and negate the need to stockpile heavy cans of fuel that must be carried and held while poured.
Growing your own apothecary is another valuable option for enhancing medical care options for senior citizens, and the entire family as well. You will be both the first responder and the emergency room after the SHTF.
Full-on gardening might be too much of a chore for some senior citizens, but growing an apothecary and crops in containers and vertically in barrels on pallets attached to both external and interior walls reduces the manual labor required to cultivate plants substantially.
Many preppers plan on using fish and livestock medications, that can be purchased without a prescription, as an alternative to human doctor-prescribed antibiotics and medications.
This could be a high risk, but potentially high reward scenario that should involve both intense research and as much professional advice as possible before undertaking.
Increasing your first aid skills should be at the top of the preparedness training schedule. Learn as much about the current health issues your seniors are dealing with now, and are likely to occur in the future to better prepare how to both maintain current health and treat medical problems when they arise.
Medical equipment should be stockpiled as well. Wheelchairs, walkers, crutches, oxygen tanks, and adult diapers may become essential on the survival retreat to care for a senior citizen, a loved one with a disability, or mutual assistance group member of any age that becomes sick or injured.
Senior citizens should develop a daily physical fitness regime to bolster their energy levels and muscle mass. The exercise routine does not need to be strenuous, or even completed while standing, to help the body grow stronger.
A plethora of free or low-cost online and in-person exercise programs for both male and female seniors exist.
Dealing with Special Medical Treatment Requirements
When it comes to preparing for a disaster with elderly family or group members, it often entails special medical considerations be taken into account.
One of the most important is making sure that any specialized treatment requirements and medical devices are accounted for.
For those who require highly specialized treatments like dialysis or physical therapy, it is essential to have a plan in place for how to continue these treatments in the event of an emergency.
This may involve the acquisition of special equipment or making arrangements with local care providers in advance.
Your first step is to contact local hospitals and clinics and discuss contingency planning with them. What is the usual procedure for treating patients in the event of a power outage or evacuation? Are any backup or partner facilities available?
Find out if the primary care facility has backup generators, and if not, where (and if) patients would be directed to for treatment in the event of power loss or damage to the facility.
You should contact any secondary care providers as well, such as specialists, to further discuss emergency procedures and take care of any needed arrangements ahead of time. You will likely need to provide them with patient info and more.
One extreme but viable option is to acquire any needed technology and training so that you may administer the needed treatments.
Things like changing colostomy bags and administering insulin for treating diabetes can be learned by almost anyone, even if the process makes you squeamish.
And yes, some treatments like dialysis are extremely intensive concerning the technology and the needed training, to say nothing of power requirements, but it can be provided for if you put your mind to it.
No matter what, it is important to have a backup plan so that your older family members continue to receive the vital treatment they need even in a grid-down situation.
It is no understatement to say that the entirety of your emergency planning may revolve around procuring this special treatment for a loved one.
Mental Preparedness for Seniors
Memory exercises should also be included in the daily prepping routine for senior citizens. Keeping the mind sharp now will help it remain so when the stress and possible changes in medication, intrude heavily on daily life during an SHTF scenario.
Reading or listening to books and watching videos related to survival and homesteading skill building will help keep the mind alert and focused on learning as much as possible about ways to contribute to the prepper retreat during a disaster.
If the senior citizen loved on has developed memory problems, make photo books to help them remember or learn the many faces they will be seeing on the prepper retreat when everyone gathers together during the disaster.
Picture books can also be used to help acquaint the elderly family member with what will become their new surroundings.
Add chamomile to your backyard apothecary and learn how to turn it into a delicious and anti-anxiety tea that will be enjoyed by an agitated or confused senior citizen (again, or anyone of any age) while it helps calm their nerves and alleviate stress.
Dealing with Mental Deterioration
Caring for a senior who is experiencing serious mental deterioration can be extremely challenging even when the world isn’t falling apart.
The first and perhaps most difficult hurdle is simply communicating with the senior.
As their condition further deteriorates, they may become confused and disoriented, making it difficult to understand what they are trying to say. In some circumstances they may become agitated or even violent, making it necessary to secure them in a safe place without harming them.
It may also prove very difficult to care for the physical needs of a senior who is mentally deteriorated, and even more difficult during any time of genuine crisis. They may be unable to feed or dress themselves and will need assistance with basic hygiene tasks.
As emotionally draining as it is to witness the decline of a loved one’s mental faculties or watch someone you care about lose their grip on reality, the practical concerns associated with caring for them in an SHTF scenario are tremendous.
If you are facing these challenges now, today, with a loved one it is important to discuss all eventualities with the rest of your family, and plan accordingly should the fateful day ever arrive.
You might determine that you simply cannot attempt to move the person during a chaotic evacuation, and decide instead to make your home as secure as possible and hunker down, consequences be damned.
Or you might determine that the best course of action is to get them out of the area well in advance of any potential trouble, even if that means hiring a special medical transport team or physically restraining them for the purpose.
Regarding this latter approach, I would remind readers that it is imperative you have all necessary medical advocacy or medical POA (power-of-attorney) paperwork and requirements on hand.
Bug Out Bag Packing for Seniors
A big part of prepping is being prepared to bug out on short notice, and that generally means having a bag packed and ready to go.
But if you’re caring for a senior, there are some special considerations that need to be taken into account when packing your bug-out bag or BOB.
For one thing, you’ll need to make sure that any medications the senior is taking are included, as well as any other items they might need in order to maintain their health and comfort.
This could include such things as eye drops, hearing aids, and even portable oxygen tanks. All of these items gobble up space and weight in a pack, so you’ll need to carefully consider what can and can’t be left behind.
Additionally, you’ll need to take into account the fact that many, if not most, seniors are often not as physically able as younger people.
For more capable seniors, they might still be able to carry their own BOB as they hike out of a disaster area if necessary, and at least for a time.
But keep in mind it is unlikely that they will be able to keep up the same pace or distance as someone younger and/or more physically fit.
It is usually better in such cases to have any of the needed items for senior care either packed in the BOB of a more capable member of the family, or the contents split up (cross-loaded) into the bags of the entire group.
This can leave them only worried about carrying a few essentials like their own water, snacks, and other light, unencumbering items.
As always, for those senior citizens that are truly infirm, you’ll likely have to resort to some sort of vehicle that can transport them safely long distances; in such cases, a BOB is not strictly necessary.
The Senior Citizen Survival Kit
A senior citizen survival kit should be packed with a variety of items that will not only help to keep them safe in an emergency but also accommodate their special care requirements.
Non-perishable food (that the elderly person can eat as-is!) and water are essentials as always. Include electrolyte replacement powder as an added defense against dehydration. Seniors don’t fare well in the heat or when exerting themselves.
A must. Adequate medical supplies of bandages, band-aids, disinfectants, eye drops, arthritis creams, and various OTC meds should be included. Also, include a supply of any prescription meds as required. For any seniors with mobility issues, consider including a mobility aid like a collapsible cane.
Sturdy, comfortable shoes and spare clothes are necessary in case evacuation is required. Don’t forget underwear and socks.
Toiletries such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, deodorant, etc. along with any needed supplies for taking care of dentures or partials and replacement prescription lenses.
A simple personal lighting kit consisting of a flashlight and batteries are essential for power outages. Consider adding some snap-lights for completely safe and reliable emergency lighting and signaling.
A personal signaling alarm might be a worthwhile inclusion since some seniors might not have the strength to blow a survival whistle.
This is a big one. Important documents such as ID cards, insurance information, pertinent medical and condition info, and contact lists should be stored in a waterproof bag or other container.
This bag should be placed or marked in such a way that any good Samaritan will recognize it and can render aid in case the bearer is separated from family or caregivers.
Everyone Has A Job To Do…
Everyone, if they were raised right, will feel the need to contribute and be a vital part of the family or group. Tap into the years of knowledge the senior citizens in your family possess before the SHTF to harness it to its full potential.
Even if the loved one can no longer climb under a vehicle or tractor to work on a problem, he or she can teach others to complete such necessary work.
There will be many jobs inside a home and on a survival compound that do not require heavy lifting or extensive time spent standing.
Any time a senior citizen can be placed in charge of a chore, the younger and more able-bodied adult who was tasked with the cooking, child care, communications, laundry, canning, etc. duty, can be redirected to more strenuous activities like perimeter control, harvesting crops, or chopping wood.
Senior Citizen Self-Defense
I have no doubt that pretty much all readers who have elderly folks in their lives that they care about would not hesitate to leap to their defense if called upon.
However, even under the circumstances of a legitimate survival scenario or evacuation, things might not always turn out that way.
If a senior citizen is separated from their family or group, or simply must endure a wait before loved ones can reach them, they must be prepared to defend themselves by any means necessary.
The best tools for the job are typically those that do not entail close combat with an assailant. all but the most physically fit and capable seniors will be at a distinct disadvantage against their statistically younger and stronger attackers.
Accordingly, arming seniors with a ranged means of defense is a good idea, although this comes with several caveats.
First and foremost, pepper spray should be considered a go-to option. Highly effective, weighing very little, and easy to use, it is likely to stop an attack before it truly starts.
So long as a senior citizen still has a fair degree of dexterity and motor function they shouldn’t have any trouble deploying and using pepper spray.
Pepper spray also has the added advantage of being quite capable against multiple attackers or being sprayed into an area ahead of advancing assailants, potentially buying the defender valuable time.
Prepping Seniors with Firearms
Firearms are now as always one of the best means of self-defense when a situation is very serious, but all firearms, even those that are extremely easy to use, come with a set of prerequisites for safe and effective operation.
For many seniors who lack strength and dexterity, typical firearms might well prove impossible to operate. The ability to retract a slide or bolt is taken for granted by the vast majority of shooters, but for the infirm or those with a disability, it can be an impossible stumbling block.
Accordingly, the most important factor to consider when deciding whether or not to equip a senior citizen with a firearm is their aptitude, enthusiasm, and their physical limitations. All other concerns about the brand, action, caliber, and so forth are completely secondary.
There is no reason you could not arm a senior citizen with a semi-automatic if they demonstrate fluency and competency in loading and operating it.
Similarly, a modern double-action revolver might greatly ease administrative burdens when it comes to getting the gun running, but then old and arthritic hands might struggle to manipulate the heavy double-action trigger.
A long gun might provide additional accuracy and stability compared to a handgun, but the greater length, bulk, and weight can prove to be a hindrance.
Or else, the opposite might be true, and being able to brace a stock against the shoulder to work the action might be just the thing to help a senior get the gun in gear.
The point is, there is no one size fits all solution when it comes to equipping an elderly person with a firearm- just like any other person! If they show enthusiasm and capability, then the sky is the limit.
But if they struggle to load or safely handle the gun then loved ones must be very prudent with how they proceed. Some hardware limitations can be overcome by additional equipment or by trying a different type of gun. Some might not.
In any case, my default selection for senior citizens who desire a firearm for self-defense is a .22 semi-automatic, either a handgun or rifle as appropriate.
Of either type, modern examples are quite light, very easy to operate, light recoiling, and plenty reliable enough not to mention deadly enough for serious self-defense.
A thorough dissertation covering various models and variance is beyond the confines of this article, but don’t worry, we have plenty of related content to help you make a good decision right here on Survival Sullivan.
A .22 caliber rifle is another viable option for senior citizen SHTF self-defense. Even though it is a low-caliber rifle, it is still deadly when placed in practiced hands.
The youth model is even more lightweight and is often favored by short-statured folks and women because an extensive reach is not required to operate the rifle effectively. Even most youth models can accept a scope.
During an SHTF scenario, you do not want to let any potential attackers to get close enough to you that a handgun will be necessary – but you want to own and practice with one until you are proficient anyway.
A .22 caliber handgun, like a rifle of the same caliber, will stop an attacker if your aim is accurate.
One more thing to consider, particularly for those who already have older family members who are getting up in their golden years and rely upon a firearm for self-defense.
Shooting is a very frangible skill, meaning you lose such skill quickly if it is not practiced. Just because a family member has been shooting their entire life with no problems does not mean they won’t encounter problems later on in life.
It is a good idea to talk this over with the elderly person in your life to make sure they can still demonstrate competency and most importantly safety in gun handling.
Although you should never be too quick to take away someone’s right to defend themselves if someone starts to physically “fall apart” when handling a gun then a gentle family intervention might be necessary.
The AR-15 semi-automatic rifle is extremely lightweight, barely has any kick to it, is simple to use and clean, and most models come equipped to accept both a scope and a bi-pod attachment.
The AR-15 is often described as the perfect rifle for the ladies because of the features noted above and due to the highly accurate nature of most moderately priced models.
Meat, Heat, And Cooking
Senior citizens who grew up hunting may no longer be able to exercise their expertise at that valuable skill at age 75. The same can be said for retired farmers who were once easily capable of running a herd of cattle and butchering their own meat.
To supplement the food stockpiled and grown in containers, flower bed gardens, and vertically, many senior citizens preppers should be able to keep small livestock as a source of meat and protein.
Cultivating a small flock of chickens or ducks for eggs and meat will not require strenuous physical labor. Killing and butchering the birds does not require a lot of bodily might either. Plucking machines, but manual and automated varieties, speed the butchering process along substantially.
Rabbits are another low-energy small livestock option for elderly preppers. They take up little space in the backyard to raise, are lightweight, and can be butchered in about 20 minutes even by a novice.
Nigerian dwarf goats are primarily considered dairy goats, and are small enough and demure enough that 4-H members as young as eight regularly take them as projects to the fair.
A backyard garden pond dug to at least 4-feet deep can be stocked with fish to catch as an additional easy-access and low-energy food source during a doomsday disaster scenario, as well.
Heat and Cooking
Pellet wood stoves may be the best heat source option for senior citizen preppers. The cast-iron stoves will heat the home and be used as a cooking surface. Pellets can be purchased in bulk bags in both brick-and-mortar stores and online – and delivered right to your doorstep.
Using pellets to fuel the woodstove negates the need to chop and split your own firewood or go outdoors unnecessarily to retrieve purchased wood from a pile.
It is always recommended to have more than one source of heat and power.
Solar generators and solar panels also offer a power source for home heating and cooking purposes. A toaster oven should not put too much of a drain on even a medium-sized solar generator during cold weather months and could be used as a backup cook source.
Nursing Home Preparedness
If your senior citizen lives in a nursing home, volunteer to teach a class related to a prepping skill at the facility. Growing a garden at a nursing facility and setting up window area growing spaces to increase the amount of food on hand, is a great place to start.
Many of the senior citizens, especially if the nursing home is in a rural area, likely grew and canned at least some of their groceries during their younger years.
Helping the residents to water bath can food and teaching the skill to interested staffers is a win-win for all of the elderly residents – and may even spark an interest in self-reliance among their caregivers.
Go one step further and reach out to nursing home staff to help develop a viable disaster preparedness plan for the facility to help ensure the safety of those who live and work there until help or loved ones, can arrive.
The photobooks noted above can be used to help staffers at a nursing facility be able to care for the senior citizen if access to computerized information is no longer accessible.
A photo of responsible family members and their contact information, along with a current list of prescription medications and other health-related information, should be included for quick and easy reference.
Make sure to alert staff to the nature and placement of the emergency care and family contact information book and remind them routinely during your visits to the nursing facility.
Nursing home rooms are not typically large and sometimes share spaces. But, just because storage space is limited, does not mean your elderly loved one cannot stockpile some preps.
Use under the bed space to store two cases of water and two buckets of long-term storage food that can be consumed by simply adding hot water and stirring.
Grocery items with a long shelf life like peanut butter, beef jerky, crackers, cans of soup, etc. should also be tucked away in any available space inside the senior citizen’s room.
Nursing Home Survival Kit
- Purchase some lightweight and inexpensive solar lights that can be used as flashlights when the power goes out at the nursing home. A flashlight is fine too, of course, but getting the end open and putting batteries in properly, especially when in a worried state, may be too difficult for some senior citizens.
- Purchase multiple Mylar emergency blankets and several solar-powered fans so the elderly loved one can be kept comfortable despite outside weather conditions if the nursing home facility loses power. Single-use hand warmers and ice packs should also be placed in the survival kit.
- Adult diapers
- A magnifying glass, non-prescription reading glasses, and an extra pair of prescription glasses.
- Self-defense items. The type of weapon will depend both on the senior citizen’s mental and physical capabilities and the rules of the nursing home. Mace, brass knuckles, a screwdriver, and a knife might be viable options.
- Bartering – During a disaster, the nursing home staff will also want to get home to their loved ones, if at all possible. The longer it takes to reach and remove the loved one from the nursing home, the more danger they are in – and more likely it is that their survival kit and stockpile of essential goods will be stolen by other residents or even staffers. Consider an arrangement with a caregiver who routinely works on each shift. You can offer the person and their family a place at your retreat or survival supplies if they look after or keep you loved one until you can reach the facility – or even to have the staffer bring the elderly family member to a designated meeting spot if you feel such a massive amount of trust can be placed in the individual.
Senior Citizen Mutual Assistance Groups
There is safety in numbers. Trying to survive as a single person or as a couple would require excellent health, a multitude of skills, a solid home base, and a budget that makes stockpiling a massive amount of food and gear, possible.
Be proactive and network with other senior citizens to form your own mutual assistance group if not bugging in with extended family. Being a lone prepper is just not a truly viable option for most anyone, regardless of age. Watch duty will need to be a round-the-clock chore when SHTF.
The more dependable and like-minded folks inside a residence, retirement community, or nursing home that are engaged in preparedness activities, the better the odds are that each will survive the disaster.
Being forced to bug out, especially on foot, has to be a top concern for senior preppers. Reducing the possibility of being forced to leave the home can best be achieved by inviting others to join in a combined survival effort.
Senior citizens should make a checklist of their skills, if prepping alone without the aid of family and search for mutual assistance in their area to join. Older adults will not be a liability for the survival group.
They were born during an era where hard work was not just valued, but expected and long before either technology or the government took such extensive control of all our lives.
The skills older folks accrued over their lifetime will be exactly the type of expertise that is needed not just during, but after a SHTF disaster when it becomes the responsibility of younger Americans to rebuild this country.
Only a foolish mutual assistance group will not see the benefit of including individuals with valuable skills and experience, even though they may be lacking the physical prowess to actively participate in actions that require heavy manual labor. Older does not necessarily mean weaker, not where it will count the most.
Tara Dodrill is a homesteading and survival journalist and author. She lives on a small ranch with her family in Appalachia. She has been both a host and frequent guest on preparedness radio shows. In addition to the publication of her first book, ‘Power Grid Down: How to Prepare, Survive, and Thrive after the Lights go Out’, Dodrill also travels to offer prepping tips and hands-on training and survival camps and expos.