Older Adults

This installment of the SAMHSA Disaster Behavioral Health Information Series (DBHIS) focuses on disaster behavioral health preparedness and response for older adults. Older adults may be a particularly vulnerable population, especially during disasters and emergency situations. Chronic conditions that exist prior to a disaster can be exacerbated, and regular treatment or services can be interrupted. In addition to not being able to access services, older adults may have other physical limitations such as impaired mobility and loss of hearing that can put them at risk. The elderly population is also more likely to experience social and economic limitations.

Health care providers, caretakers, and family members play a vital role in helping older adults plan and prepare for disasters. Building a disaster plan before a disaster strikes may not only save lives and prevent injury, but it can vastly reduce stressors and their mental health effects after a disaster.

The resources included in this DBHIS installment are targeted to older adults and their caregivers, family members, health care providers, and treatment facilities. Following are some of the topics the installment covers:

  • Preparedness, planning, and recovery information for older adults
  • Guidelines for family members, caregivers, and mental health and health care providers for helping older adults cope with disaster
  • Suggestions for disaster responders and community leaders for making sure that older adults are supported and their needs addressed
  • Issues specific to older adults with disabilities and other access and functional needs

Use the menu bar at left to narrow the results by issue, condition, and disorder (these include disaster types); professional and research topics; or other areas of interest.

Related Resources

Displaying 31 total results.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Aging (HHS, NIH, NIA)

In this online article, the NIA defines hypothermia, a risk for people in snowstorms, ice storms, and other cold winter weather. The booklet explains why older adults may be especially at risk, presents tips for avoiding hypothermia, lists hypothermia warning signs, and identifies sources of additional information and support.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Aging (HHS, NIH, NIA)

In this online article, the NIA provides guidance for caregivers in ensuring preparedness of someone with Alzheimers disease for a disaster or other emergency. The article lists supplies to have on hand, key points to cover in planning for an evacuation, and what to do if a caregiver gets separated from someone with Alzheimers.

American Red Cross

This guide lists three steps to preparednessgetting a kit, making a plan, and being informedand describes the activities that should be involved in each of these steps. Supply checklists are provided, as is guidance in considering disaster risks in your area and your own areas of vulnerability, as well as possible sources of support in the event of a disaster. Steps to take during and after a disaster are also identified, as are the effects disasters may have on survivors.

Elder Update (Florida Department of Elder Affairs)

This special issue of Elder Update, a newsletter created by the Florida Department of Elder Affairs, includes preparation information for various types of natural disasters including hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes. It outlines topics including disaster kits, insurance, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance application process. Also available in Spanish at http://elderaffairs.state.fl.us/doea/eu/2019/Disaster_Guide_2019_spanish... [Citation: State of Florida, Department of Elder Affairs. Elder Affairs. 2019 July/August;30(4).]

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Aging (HHS, AOA)

Through the Eldercare Locator, users can find services for older adults and their families in locations across the country, in areas running the gamut from behavioral health to financial assistance to insurance to food and nutrition. Those who cannot use the online locator can access services toll-free at 1-800-677-1116. The Eldercare Locator site provides links to information and materials for older adults and families on a variety of aging-related topics.

Alzheimer's Association

This tip sheet offers guidance in emergency preparedness for those who care for and support people with Alzheimers and other dementias. Preparedness steps are presented, as are items to include in an emergency kit. Also included are steps to take during an evacuation, ideas to help the person with dementia avoid agitation, and tips for self-care for people helping those with dementia.


This video provides information on what caregivers should pack in an emergency preparedness bag for older adults to help them to be ready in the event of a disaster or other emergency. The presenter suggests records to include, emergency kit items that are useful for people of all ages (such as flashlights, a weather radio, a whistle, water, and nonperishable food items), and items for pets. [Producer: Keefe, D. M.]

Health in Aging Foundation (Official Foundation of the American Geriatrics Society)

This fact sheet provides three steps for older adults and their caregivers to take in planning and preparing for disasters and other emergencies: make a plan, stock an emergency medical kit, and make a disaster supplies kit. For each step, several items and elements to include are listed.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

The Federal Emergency Management Agency provides information on declared disasters and emergencies, as well as useful information about different types of disasters and hazards.

National Council on Aging (NCOA)

In this blog post, NCOA identifies and describes several programs available to disaster survivors of all ages, including older adults. Programs can help with getting food, tax relief, housing, and help with home energy costs.

Stanford University, Stanford Geriatric Education Center (SGEC)

This SGEC webinar series focuses on emergency preparedness for older adults. Intended for health care practitioners and educators, the series covers emergency planning for older adults with functional and access needs, active shooter situations in long-term care and assisted living facilities, and Alzheimers disease and emergency planning for states and localities.

Geriatric Mental Health Foundation (American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry)

The American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry established the Geriatric Mental Health Foundation to heighten public awareness of the importance of mental health and prevalence of mental illnesses among the elderly, eradicate negative misperceptions of mental health services, and promote broader access to these services for older adults, as well as healthy aging in general. Its website features links to information for consumers/patients and to related organizations, as well as a database of geriatric psychiatrists.

Consortium of New York Geriatric Education Centers

This curriculum on bioterrorism, emergency preparedness, and aging provides an overview of disaster preparedness and response, aging and mental health, how disasters may affect older adults mental health, and how health care providers can help older adults to cope with their reactions, through screening and assessment, counseling, and pharmacological interventions. Also included is a section about provider self-care to prevent burnout and secondary traumatization. The curriculum is intended for health care practitioners, as well as students and faculty, and its ultimate goal is to improve services for older adults in the event of a disaster.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (HHS, SAMHSA)

This toolkit helps service providers for the aging learn more about mental illness and substance use disorders in older adults, including focus on alcohol and medication use. It provides tools such as a program coordinator's guide, suggested curricula, and handouts.

Contra Costa Health Services

This 30-minute video discusses the importance of emergency preparedness for older adults. It provides information to help with preparedness for disasters and other emergencies, as well as examples of what a community and an organization are doing to support emergency preparedness.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (HHS, CDC)

This webpage provides information for older adults on how to deal with the stress of extreme heat, which can place them at high risk for health problems. It also provides a link to the symptoms of heat-related illness and a checklist for caretakers to help them protect older adults from heat stress.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

This webpage identifies older adults, as well as young children and people with physical health problems or people who are overweight, as especially vulnerable to extremely hot weather. The page provides tips for staying abreast of weather fluctuations, staying safe in heat, and finding public places to stay cool during the hottest times of day.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (HHS, CDC)

This 56-page guide is designed to help emergency management and public health officials and organizations and the aging services network to improve plans for disasters and other emergencies to better account for and support subgroups of older adults who are particularly vulnerable in disasters. The guide covers plan development, relevant laws and legal authorities, ways to identify older adults who will be especially vulnerable in disasters and other emergencies, and steps to take to improve planning and outcomes for at-risk older adults.

Alzheimer's Association

This webpage provides information about planning and preparedness for caregivers of people with Alzheimers disease and dementias, which are conditions that are more common among older adults than other age groups. In addition to general emergency planning tips, the page provides ideas and links to help plan for continuity of pharmacological care, safety for the person with dementia, and access to medical records.

American Association of Retired Persons (AARP)

In this resource, AARP, which works to enhance quality of life for older adults, provides guidance for disaster-affected communities to help them rebuild and recover in ways that make them better places to live for people of all ages. AARP points out that the U.S. population is aging and argues for the importance of making communities accessible to and livable for older adults and those of all ages. This resource identifies key features of an age-friendly community; presents principles of livable land use, housing, transportation, and mobility; and offers links to other resources to help with planning and implementing rebuilding and development. [Author: Anthony, J.]

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, National Center for PTSD (VA, PTSD)

This part of the website of the National Center for PTSD features materials for professionals to help them in working with older adults with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), one possible consequence of disaster experiences. Resources include online information and courses about PTSD in older adults, PTSD that is co-occurring with other conditions that may arise in older adults, and prescribing practices for older veterans with PTSD.

HelpAge International (UN affiliate)

This 27-page report provides extensive guidelines that are based on international research with a global disaster perspective. The guidelines recommend how the humanitarian community can meet the needs of older people and include strategies for supporting older people in contributing to disaster recovery for their families and communities.

American Association of Retired Persons (AARP)

Create the Good is a service provided by AARP for matching interested individuals, most of whom are 50 years or older, with volunteer opportunities. It offers some do-it-yourself projects on its website, including Operation Emergency Prepare, which guides people through helping their friends, family, and other loved ones; organizations; and communities in preparing for disasters and other emergencies. This resource features steps corresponding to key preparedness activities, several checklists, and information and links to related resources.

Alzheimer's Association

This guide is intended for non-clinical staff of long-term care facilities who may step into more direct patient care roles during a pandemic or other disaster. The guide discusses person-centered care, communication for people with dementia with their family members and other loved ones, nutrition and fluid intake, and wandering and catastrophic reactions, along with ways to address these concerns.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency (DHS, FEMA)

This brochure offers tips for older Americans to start preparing for emergencies before they happen. It suggests items to include in an emergency supply kit, key steps to take in emergency planning, and ways for older adults to make sure they are prepared for hazards that are more likely in their region.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (HHS, SAMHSA)

This toolkit contains a suite of resources with information about mental health and suicide prevention for senior living communities. It includes a manager's guide, fact sheets for residents, and hands-on training tools for professional staff and family members.

American Health Care Association

This guide was adapted for nursing homes from the Psychological First Aid Field (PFA) Operations Guide (2nd edition). The resource also includes special adaptations and instructions for working with older adults after disasters. [Authors: Brown, L. M., and Hyer, K.]

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Mental Health Services (HHS, SAMHSA, CMHS)

This booklet gives mental health professionals, emergency response workers, and other service providers information on how to support the mental health and recovery of older adults in the aftermath of a disaster.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Aging (HHS, AOA)

This brochure offers tips for people with loved ones who are older adults to help them keep in contact with their older relatives and friends after a disaster. A planning mnemonic (INTOUCH) is provided, with steps to take for creating an individualized plan.

University of New Mexico, Center for Development and Disability

This booklet provides tips for responders during emergencies as well as routine encounters to accommodate and communicate with people with disabilities. A special section focuses on assisting seniors. A Spanish-language version is available at http://cdd.unm.edu/dhpd/tips/tipsspanish.html.


This document presents the ways in which older adults are particularly vulnerable in disasters and suggests how responders during a disaster can make sure their services reach and address the needs of older adults. Examples are provided of promising practices in serving older adults before, during, and after disasters. (MDC was formerly Manpower Development Corp.)

Last Updated: 09/05/2017