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.

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Cold weather safety for older adults - 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.

Disaster preparedness for Alzheimer’s caregivers - 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 Alzheimer’s 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 Alzheimer’s.

Disaster preparedness for seniors by seniors - American Red Cross
This guide lists three steps to preparedness—getting a kit, making a plan, and being informed—and 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.

Disaster preparedness guide for elders - 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/2017/Disaster_Guide_2017_Spanish.pdf [Citation: State of Florida, Department of Elder Affairs. Elder Affairs. 2017 July/August;28(4).]

Eldercare Locator (Administration on Aging) - 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.

Emergency preparedness - Alzheimer's Association
This tip sheet offers guidance in emergency preparedness for those who care for and support people with Alzheimer’s 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.

Emergency preparedness bag - caringforparentstogether.com
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.]

Emergency preparedness for older adults - 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.

Federal Emergency Management Agency - 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.

Finding relief when disaster strikes: 7 disaster assistance programs that can help - 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.

Geriatric emergency preparedness - 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 Alzheimer’s disease and emergency planning for states and localities.

Geriatric mental health: Disaster preparedness and response curriculum - 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.

Geriatric Mental Health Foundation - 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.

Get connected! Linking older adults with medication, alcohol, and mental health resources - 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.

Get ready, get healthy: Emergency preparedness for seniors - 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.

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Last Updated: 09/05/2017