Emergency preparedness for older adults

This in-depth guide will help you create a plan for your parent in the event of a crisis.

October 05, 2022

7 min read

Senior woman using home automation touch screen panel in home

Severe weather, power outages, your older parent wandering off and getting lost or falling in the home – the importance of emergency preparedness for older adults cannot be overstated. This is especially true when it comes to medical emergencies, as they occur more frequently. Read our guide and customize it for your parent’s unique needs.

Make medical information accessible

Healthcare professionals provide the best, most appropriate treatment when they have up-to-date medical information. Keep all documents showing diagnoses and medications in an easily accessible location in the home should you, EMS technicians or someone else need them.

What if your parent is away from home or can’t communicate with hospital staff? Purchase a personalized medical ID bracelet for your parent to help doctors understand their health history at a glance. If jewelry isn’t an option, place a small card with vital information in their purse or wallet.

Consider a mobile app for you and your parent that allows instant access to records. Many hospitals and healthcare providers offer free mobile apps that aggregate all medical information and doctors’ notes from appointments. Ask your parent’s physician for more information.

Prevent and prepare for falls

Falls are typically the medical emergencies that pose the greatest risk for older adults. To keep your aging parent as safe as possible, clear the home of tripping hazards. Then, inform your parent about what to do if they fall while in the home alone. Any in-home service providers and family members who assist with caregiving should be informed on what to do as well.

In case of a fall, your parent should wait a moment to ensure there is no serious bleeding, or injuries to the head or body, before moving or being moved. If they are injury free, they may roll onto their hands and knees and then stand, but they should find a place to sit immediately after. If there is injury, bleeding or head trauma, call 911. If your parent falls often, consider a wearable device that signals an emergency service for seniors at the touch of a button.

Know when to call EMS

Emergency medical professionals are your first line of defense when it comes to urgent situations. Many older adults often call a family member when something happens, delaying the critical treatment they may need. Encourage your parent to call EMS first, before you or another family member, especially if they are experiencing any of the following:

  • Serious injury from a fall
  • Trouble breathing or shortness of breath when at rest
  • Chest pain
  • Symptoms of a heart attack (pain in the jaw, neck, back or chest, weakness and shortness of breath)
  • Symptoms of stroke (face drooping, arm weakness and speech difficulty)
  • Sudden severe lightheadedness
  • Severe allergic reaction
  • Bleeding that won’t stop
  • Bleeding with weakness
  • Headache, vomiting and dizziness following a head injury

Consider registering your parent’s phone for Smart911, a free national service that allows emergency dispatchers to see caller’s location information and more whenever they dial 911.

What to do when it’s not an emergency

If your parent calls EMS frequently, they may need support for medical non-emergencies such as:

  • Small cuts without excessive bleeding
  • Bruising following an accident
  • Falls without serious injuries
  • Mild persistent headaches
  • Illness symptoms like low-grade fevers and fatigue
  • Non-severe signs of medication mismanagement

Create a text group just for your parent and include other family members and trusted individuals they can message for non-emergency support. If your parent uses a landline phone, post a list of phone numbers on their refrigerator for easy access.

Instead of turning to the ER first, ask your parent to go to their nearest urgent care center. Many areas offer NEMT or non-medical emergency transportation services. Check the availability of these services in their area and if their insurance covers the cost.

Utilize emergency response services for seniors

No emergency preparedness plan for seniors is complete without access to a personal emergency response system. Usually in the form of a pendant or bracelet, this technology allows your parent to contact the help they need if they can’t make it to their phone. Some service providers may even send you an alert when activated.

Emergency services for seniors have come a long way since the parodied commercials of the past. Wi-Fi connection, GPS, fitness tracking, fall detection and smart home accessories are just a few of the tech enhancements you can expect to see across a spectrum of brands.

Disaster preparedness for older adults

Unlike medical emergencies, many disasters are unavoidable and generally out of our control, but a few well-placed preparations can keep your parent safe.

Assess the risks

If your parent has lived in the same home or general location for years, you’re familiar with the most common disasters. Are power outages usual during extreme weather? Do hurricanes or ice storms often occur?

Research the local evacuation plan or shelter protocols. Sign your parent up to receive mobile weather alerts. The FEMA app sends real-time weather notifications, shelter information and other vital information during disasters.

Assess where your parent lives, address any fire hazards and make sure the home is ready for severe weather. This preparation may include:

  • Installing a power generator
  • De-icing walkways ahead of winter
  • Servicing HVAC units ahead of summer
  • Checking gas-powered appliances for maintenance or repairs
  • Placing a fire extinguisher in the kitchen
  • Inspecting carbon monoxide and smoke detectors

Check their coverage

Insurance is often forgotten until it’s needed most. Verify your parent has coverage for any natural disaster or man-made catastrophe. Speaking of coverage, make sure you have a supportive network in place should your parent ever need shelter, someone to call or a safety check during an emergency. Consider siblings, relatives, neighbors and individuals you and your parent trust. Share their contact information with your parent and keep a copy for yourself.

Have a senior emergency kit

Your parent’s emergency kit may look a little different from the one you have at home. In addition to the essentials – flashlight, batteries, a cell phone power bank, bottled water, nonperishable food and a first aid kit – stock it with emergency supplies for older adults.

A few things to consider are:

  • A list of important contact information
  • Glasses
  • Hearing aids with extra batteries
  • At least a week’s worth of medication
  • Medical supplies like syringes or a back-up oxygen tank
  • Assistive devices like a cane or rollator
  • Medical documents including prescriptions, insurance information and allergy information

Plan and practice together

Preparation is paramount, however, when cortisol levels rise, it’s easy to forget a plan ever existed. Whether it’s evacuation protocol, using an app or establishing an escape route in case of a housefire, take time to create disaster preparedness plans with your parent. Make it simple and as easy to remember as possible.

Rehearse escape routes together and make adjustments when necessary. Check in and gently remind your parent of their safety plans when winter, hurricane season or other seasonal severe weather is approaching. Review and update their emergency contacts about every six months.

Assisted living emergency preparedness

Many caregivers find peace of mind knowing that, should an emergency ever strike, their family member is in the safety and security of a senior living community.

With more than 25 years of experience, Atria Senior Living has faced a number of emergencies and disasters that have put plans to the test. Should a situation escalate, Atria’s National Emergency Response Team is always ready to assist communities in need.

Because of their reliability and safety, senior living communities are popular for many older adults during peak severe weather seasons. Many turn to Atria for short-term stays during winter, when slips and falls are more likely, and summer, when power outages, wildfires and heat strokes are common. An excellent option for those recovering from an illness or surgery, short-term stays help deter medical emergencies and reduce hospital readmittance.

Find out more about the  care services  Atria offers – for residents and short-term stay guests alike.

Want to learn more about Atria? Visit the community nearest you.

Emergency preparedness checklist for seniors (PDF)

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Not sure where to start?

There’s a lot to learn when you become a caregiver, and you may be wondering where to start. Fortunately, many of the experiences you’ll encounter are common, and we've pulled together resources to help you along your journey.

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