Survival Challenges for the Elderly

September is National Preparedness month in the United States, with a focus this year on preparing older adults for disasters. We rarely touch on this in the prepping community, but the elderly generally have a harder time surviving any disaster, even something as commonplace as bad winter weather. Bugging out is generally not an option, unless a family member is willing to include them in their bug out plans, including taking the time to go by their house and pick them up.

This may not seem like much of a big deal, but the older someone gets, the more health problems they generally have. Adding those health problems to adverse environmental conditions can easily lead to dangerous situations and even to death.

My mother, who is 87 years old, has pleurisy (a lung condition) and has had pneumonia at least a dozen times. She lives in the Denver metro area and has been trapped in her apartment for several months now, due to the smoke coming down from forest fires in Canada. My mother-in-law, who lives in Corpus Christi, has similar environmental conditions to deal with, caused by Sahara dust that actually blows across the Atlantic Ocean, as well as smoke from agricultural fires in Mexico and Central America. These may not be issues to the average family, but they are to the elderly.

Health conditions can cause severe problems for the elderly, as the body begins to break down and physical strength and stamina decline. There are many things that the elderly cannot do for themselves, which they might have been able to do when they were younger. On top of that, they have need of medications to help keep their body chemistry in balance and everything functioning properly. Without those medications, their chances of survival diminish greatly.

Besides all that, the elderly face the problem of having to prepare on a fixed income, which is likely considerably lower than what they were earning while they were working. Yet, just like the rest of us, they need to prepare, so that they can survive whatever disasters come their way.

If you have elderly parents or other relatives, I’d recommend getting together with them and making sure they are ready to survive whatever disasters might come their way. You may not be able to go pick them up and bring them to your house; so, you want to make sure that their homes are ready for survival. That means making sure they have food, water and medicines; but there’s more to it than that.

Dealing with Heating and Cooling

Every year, I hear reports about elderly who have frozen to death in their homes, usually during some sort of a winter storm. The same thing happens in the summertime, although it doesn’t usually make the news. Our bodies can only withstand so much of a change in temperature and having limited mobility makes that even worse, as we lose a lot of the natural heating and cooling that our bodies are able to provide for themselves, when we are not mobile.

As we all know, the energy required for heating and cooling is expensive, especially cooling. Elderly people who die from hypothermia typically die because they are unable to afford paying their energy bills. Many live in older homes, which are not as well insulated, making those costs even worse to deal with.

One key to surviving the vagrancies of temperature is to reduce the amount of area that needs to be heated and/or cooled. This is the basic idea behind programmable thermostats, which allow you to reduce the amount of heating or cooling when nobody is using that part of the house. While more work, we can accomplish mush the same thing by opening and closing doors and vents, keeping the heated or cooled air from the home’s HVAC system in the areas of the house being occupied. This is especially useful for those who have bedrooms in their homes, which are not in use.

Please note that you may have to lubricate or even replace vents in the rooms you want to be able to cut off, in order for this to work. Most vents are stiff, from a combination of age, lack of any original lubrication and dirt. I’ve gone so far as to drill holes in the lever for opening the vent and attaching dowel rods, so that there is a more accessible handle for opening and closing those vents.


For those living in warmer climates, the bigger challenge is cooling, rather than heating. Air conditioning can be more expensive than heating, making this harder for retired folk, living on a fixed income.

As with heating, it is possible to block off rooms that are not in use, reducing the amount of cooling required. The other thing that can be very helpful is using evaporative cooling. Simply draping a damp cloth over the front of a fan will produce air that is cooler than the ambient room air.

Dealing with Air Quality

But there’s more for the elderly to be concerned about than air temperature, as I mentioned above. Particulates in the air can cause serious problems for the elderly. Things like forest fires and excessively dry weather will increase the amount of particulates in the air, causing lung and breathing problems. Fortunately, this is not all that hard a problem to deal with.

Obviously, it makes sense to keep as much of this out of the home as possible. That means ensuring that windows and doors close completely, without leaving any gaps, a common problem on older homes. It may be necessary to replace weatherstripping in order to keep that dust out.

The other thing to do is to filter the air that is in the home, especially in the most used rooms. Commercially manufactured room air filters exist in a variety of sizes, ringing in prices from about $40 up to several hundred dollars.

Another option is to make a homemade room air filter. All that’s needed for this is a box fan and a filter that would normally be put in a HVAC system. Most box fans are 20 inches square, which is one of the most common sizes for HVAC filters, making them easy to find. Choose a high-quality filter, preferably a HEPA filter, as that will remove more particulates from the air. The filer can be taped to the input side of the fan with duct tape, masking tape or packing tape.

Dealing with Shortages of Medicines

One of the biggest concerns with the elderly is medicines. Most take maintenance doses of meds to take care of chronic problems like type-2 diabetes and high blood pressure. Not having access to their medicines can be life-threatening, especially in a stressful situation, such as a disaster.

The obvious solution is to stockpile the medicines that they need. If you have a good relationship with your family doctor, they can probably be talked into writing prescriptions for extra medications to keep on hand. But that doesn’t mean that the insurance company will pay for those extra meds. You may have to pay full retail for them or buy them through Mark Cuban’s “Cost Plus” drugs.

Another option for those who live close enough to travel to Mexico, is to buy those extra meds from pharmacies in Mexico. The Mexican pharmaceutical industry is excellent and they sell what are essentially generic versions of many popular medications. There are a fair number of retired people who travel to Mexico yearly, in order to buy their year’s supply of these medicines. The only ones they are unlikely to have are newer medications which are still protected by patent law.

The other thing to look into is natural replacements for those medications. The field of medicine started out with herbal medicines, even though the pharmaceutical industry speaks badly of herbal medicines today. While there may not be a natural replacement for every medicine known to man, there are natural substitutes which will work for the more common conditions. Learn which they are and grow them in your garden.

Keep in mind that medicines are subject to shortages, just like everything else. Some were affected by the shortages created by the COVID-19 pandemic. In the early part of this year, one of the medicines I take regularly was almost impossible to get. I mostly had to do without for several months. While I survived that, it was not good for my body.

Dealing with Flooding

Another thing that can be particularly problematic for the elderly is flooding. This term conjures up images of waves stacking up 50 feet tall, wiping away everything in their path. Even so, most flooding is from a few inches to a few feet deep, with few floods reaching over ten feet deep.

The normal way to deal with flooding is to bug out; but as we’ve already discussed, that may not be possible for the elderly, especially if they don’t have anyone to pick them up and take them. That leaves the option of getting above the floodwaters, before it is too late. In a two-story home, going to the upper floor will solve that problem. Otherwise, the only solution (besides a boat) is to get to higher ground. Make sure you know where the closest high ground is, near the home, and how you can get their quickly.

Never go into an attic as a means of trying to escape flooding; if the flood waters rise too much, whoever goes up there is trapped, unless an exit hatch exists.

Speaking of an exit hatch, it would be possible to install a dormer on most roofs, even if the attic is not occupied. That dormer could either have a window in it or a removable panel, which would act as an escape hatch. Taking that idea a step further, a balcony outside the dormer would both be decorative and practical, giving anyone trying to escape from the attic someplace to step, as they climbed their way further up the roof.

Written by

Bill White is the author of Conquering the Coming Collapse, and a former Army officer, manufacturing engineer and business manager. More recently, he left the business world to work as a cross-cultural missionary on the Mexico border. Bill has been a survivalist since the 1970s, when the nation was in the latter days of the Cold War. He had determined to head into the Colorado Rockies, should Washington ever decide to push the button. While those days have passed, the knowledge Bill gained during that time hasn’t. He now works to educate others on the risks that exist in our society and how to prepare to meet them. You can send Bill a message at editor [at]

Latest comments
  • Well now, think about this for a second. Them elderly folks been around the block a time or two. They lived through times when folks didn’t have all them fancy gadgets and had to make do with what they had. Just ’cause they ain’t runnin’ around stockin’ up on the latest gear don’t mean they ain’t prepared. Heck, they probably know ways to survive that we ain’t even thought of. Bet your bottom dollar they got skills and wisdom that could out-prep any of us young’uns.

    • Yes, indeed! Just how many young’uns know how to butcher a chicken, pick it, pin it, singe it, remove the entrails and save the edible parts, much less cut up a whole chicken? Very sadly I learned in the mid 80’s when in college that of the more than 30 young folks I was often around, most of them city born and bred, had no clue how to do any of that. We’d decided to make a dinner for some very respected friends to all of us one night and it seemed on our limited funds that chicken was the best way to go. Including ourselves we would be serving about 130 people. Someone brought up the question whether anyone knew how to cut up whole chickens as they were by far the cheapest to purchase. Out of those approximately 30 young people I was the only one. That became my job for the entire dinner, as far as the rest were concerned. Another thing is that we decided that some homemade ice cream would be a real treat on a hot August night, but no one had such a thing as a homemade ice cream freezer, except me, and some old folks I knew, who also had an ice cream freezer. They also had a walk-in freezer, which was very helpful for the amount of ice cream we made for that dinner. So my job also became making the homemade ice cream for desert that night. Thanks to growing up in the country with a mother who grew up on a farm and was used to butchering and land enough when I was growing up that we could raise our own chickens, rabbits, a cow, goat, etc., we learned early that if we wanted to make pets of the animals, that was fine with our folks, but those animals were meant for food, so when butchering time came, NO TEARS, that is what the animals were for and we were expected to eat them. We also grew up with a Mom who grew a huge garden, growing all our vegetables, spices, herbs, etc., and enough fruit trees in the yard to produce enough various fruits for canning for the winter. We children were expected to help. Summers from school were not play days. We worked in the garden, doing what we could do, per our age, to help grow our vegetables for the year, help can fruit, and butcher meat for winter. Would most city folks know how? Not the city folks I’ve known. Depending on chemical drugs for “diseases”? No, with the kind of a Mom I had and the kind of parents she had, the herbal medicines we grew in the garden took care of most needs for going to the Dr. and the few times we did, the more ammo my Mom made sure to attain to prevent as many Dr. visits as possible. Diabetes and taking drugs to control it? Absolutely NOT! When Dad was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, Mom made sure that he ate in certain ways for a while, not according to the Dr. prescribed methods either, and at the next Dr. visit guess what? No sign of Type 2 Diabetes. Dad never took drugs for diabetes. Mom and Dad couldn’t afford the drugs anyway. Dad never had trouble with being diabetic again. Problems with edema, asthma, allergies, pneumonia, chest congestion, etc.,? No problem, Mom was a wonder at natural antibiotics, anti-viral, anti-fungal, anti-yeast foods/substances that work far better than anything that comes from a pharmacy and they don’t succumb to problems like MRSA or antibiotic resistance. She knew what would take care of edema, what foods contained antihistamines that took care of asthma, and the list went on and on. Going to a Dr. was a very rare thing and it’s wonderful to be in my 60s’ and take no drug cartel type of drugs. I don’t care which side of the law the drug cartels, drug lords, drug dealers and drug peddlers are on, they all fit the same classification. The legal side of the law, drugs aren’t meant to FIX anything, only alleviate or control a disease that the drug cartels don’t want FIXED. Vets fix pigs/hogs from diabetes all the time. No farmer is going to make a profit from the porcine family that is afflicted with diabetes. If animals can be cured from diabetes, why not humans? The answer is, they can be. Dementia, Alzheimers, Parkinson’s, fibromyalgia and other types of auto immune diseases,…when was that last time you heard of a REVERSAL and CURE for any of them? Not from the drug cartels and drug lords! Yet there are very natural ways in which to not only cease the progression of but to reverse to normalcy all of those things. Our world of convenience from toilet paper and paper towels, disposable diapers, plastics, electromagnetic interferences of TV, radio, computers, etc., processed foods, and more ad nauseam, are not for our benefit, only our convenience and ease. We as a human race have become sheeple without any defense against the predators who would love to destroy us for their own profit. Cancer – heard of a cancer treatment from the drug cartels and drug lords that don’t carry their own death sentence? Of course not. Chemo and radiation both have a limited time frame for potentially killing off some form of the cancer, but not all, the master cells are still left in the body, and once out of control they take right off again. Good medical diagnostics – when was the last time medical malpractice was part of your experience? Between shotgun drugging practices that kill off from 100,000 to 150,000 people in the USA on average every year, and medical malpractice, the actual but not advertised third cause of death in the USA is the medical world and their practice of medical murder. If the drug cartels cared about “health” rather than “wealth” they would have allergy tests to be given to every patient before a Dr. prescribes the drug to a patient, but they aren’t interested in health, and they’re willing, as are the Drs. paid well to shotgun drugs at people and if it means killing off better than 100,000 people every year by medical murder, well so be it, it’s worth it to “help” the millions. Sadly the great majority of the medical world employees feel that is a very just and reasonable standard. Right up until one of their loved ones dies because of medical malpractice. Yet this country of ease and convenience laps it up like it’s gospel truth, and it is one of the biggest hoaxes this country has chosen to believe. Truth is, we are ALL going to die one day, there are no exceptions to that. Some may die sooner than others, due to one reason or another, and many of the young’uns won’t live to see old age, their ignorance, arrogance and conceit may very well be a good part of why they’ll never live to see old age. Worst of all, they have no clue that if they do live to old age, there will be as many young’uns who think the same thing of them, an oldster out of their depth and need to be killed off and arrogant enough to think an oldster would stand quaking in the face of a thug who points a shotgun at them. Yet the conceit of the young’uns is great enough they squeal like a pig when someone treats them the same way as they’ve treated others. It is one of the vocal evidences of cowardice of any human. Really sad that so many are so willing to be ignorant, deliberately uneducated and helpless. They think “times have changed”, and yes, there are lots of changes that have come along, but that doesn’t mean for the good, yet because it is change, it is assumed it is better. Talk about idiotic, insane, ignorant stupidity. Yes, it’d take a lot more than an ignorant stupid idiot with a shotgun to stop most of us older folks, I know way too many older folks who could look right down the barrel of a shotgun, handgun, rifle or a bow with arrow pointed at them and before the armed person knows what is happening they’ll be minus a weapon and the old coot will be in control of the weapon, not even pointed at the young’un, with the young cowardly squealing pig screaming for mercy when they’re not even being threatened. They’re also the disgusting reprobates who take the person they physically threatened kill to court for turning the tables on them. They love advertising their ignorance, stupidity and inexperience. With hope they will live long enough to grow up and grow into older people.

    • Bubba

      I am one of the elderly folks at 73 and my father taught me things most girls are never taught. In fact I think I might have been the first girl in boy scouts. Dad was the leader of my brothers troop. I went to all the meetings and camping trips. fishing trips and everything the boys did. I married a Tennessee country boy and learned a lot more from his family.. My Grandparents and parents lived through the great depression and I learned more from them than I could learn from any book. I remember my mother talking about my grandfather walking 15 miles to get enough goat milk to last a week for my aunt who was allergic to Cows milk. So he walked 30 nukes every Saturday just for milk for one child.

      • Jackie, I would gladly have YOU on my side than some of these young’uns out there today. You being older OR being a woman only add to the upside.
        If your grandfather did that for family, I imagine you grew up believing family matters,, I’m sure your mom did more than just recite stories. And I sure hope he lived a good long life.

  • If I was to march up to them old-timers with my shotgun, they’d probably just stand there, quiverin’ in their boots. Back in their day, they might’ve had some spunk, but times have changed. Think they’d stand a chance ‘gainst modern firepower? Doubtful. Might’ve been tough once, but now? Just a buncha old coots outta their depth.

    • Daisy I’ll just bet you I am better armed than you are, trained & not afraid to use lethal force if forced to.

    • When I was young I looked out for the old folks and now that i’m old is see that’s not a thing anymore

    • Remember Daisy, it’s only a matter of time before you’re an old coot outta your depth and there’ll be disrespectful young snobs, just like you, with your attitude directed right back at you. What you give is what you’re going to get, sadly enough.

      • Travelin On, it’s only a matter of time “IF” Daisy LIVES that long. One of these “old coots” just might have a different reaction than boot quiverin’.
        Remember, it ain’t just our shin that gets tough and leathery. 😉
        You seem a little more “mature” in your thoughts, kudos.

      • Meds from Mexico. Not a good idea anymore. Fetenal is in a lot of the drugs down there. Be careful, or just stop buying. Up to you.drd52@hotmail

    • And their replacement is a couple generations of useless, entitled, lazy and ignorant brats. Best of luck to the lot of them.

    • I wouldn’t try us if I were you. Because you would definitely find out.

  • The well-being of the elderly could potentially be enhanced if they choose to cast their votes in favor of Biden, given his policies and initiatives aimed at their demographic.

    • Nothing on God’s green earth would encourage my vote for the puppeteers behind Biden


    • Yeah, his inflation, taxes, extra regulations, and lack of being right on nearly anything on foreign policy really helped us seniors!

  • Only two morons out of three posts, guess there’s still hope even for the more advanced age people. I happen to be one, and I assure you that it will take more than someone with a shotgun to intimidate me. I have enough of the same category to more than compensate for your choice of “tool”, and I have a reasonable amount of practice with the majority of them.
    As to enhancing our well-being, umm, if your last NAME is Biden that might be true, but other than reducing the cost of SOME meds, and I believe that was kind of in the works before he got in, there is precious little to be gained by following your advice. If you look at the quantity of people suddenly getting the benefits they do, from the “elderly” people’s tax bills, without even entering this country and following its laws, you would reconsider such a suggestion. Biden is causing massive problems that are detrimental to the entire country, and it’s actually a little worse for the more mature citizenry. Whereas once I felt my retirement was going to be relatively manageable, it now has me SQUEEZING my pennies, and spending more time searching for needed items at the best possible price I can. It didn’t use to be quite the concern if we were to think of an evening at the movies and a meal.
    To the author: Well written, even if it misses a bit here and there. All of these articles have the benefit of making wise people think long and hard about the things needing consideration. As one who has reached ( or nearly, depending on one’s viewpoint), I have to look seriously at these factors. Meds and travel are the biggest difficulties my situation has me pondering. Thanks for putting it in print!

    • Amen, and best wishes to you!

  • Please pardon the typos above, fat fingers and a need for updated eyeglasses are at least partly to blame, as was my difficulty in proofreading it.

  • Did Everyone hear about the FEMA Alert System test on Wed. Oct. 4th? Look it up. What are they getting ready for now? Getting older and trying to survive disasters is scary. Hopefully we all have some kind of network of family and friends that will be able to help us. We’ve been stockpiling meds, but don’t forget to rotate they lose their effectiveness after expired. Still useable but less effective.

  • Heating a small area: Get a couple tabletop fireplaces and fuel to go with them. Keep in safe place. Cooling: Take a cool bath if possible and stay quiet. Basements are usually cooler, or have a cellar. Get Dr Zelenko’s detox for any virus. zstacklife dot com. He lost very few patients out of thousands to c-19. Stock up on canned goods to make soup with.
    Common sense goes a long way……. Put some good locks on your doors–including a door jammer. From personal experience these work well. MIL is 96 and still gardens……..