The Challenges Of Surviving A Sustained Catastrophic Event For The Elderly And The Disabled


The challenges of surviving a sustained catastrophic event for the elderly and the disabled are almost totally ignored by the “prepper” community.  Survival recommendations and training are almost always directed at healthy, younger people who are at their maximum strength and health.  Most preppers have or will have elderly parents or relations that may suffer from arthritis, heat disuse, COPD, and dementia at some point.

My wife and I both lived in the inner city with disabled parents for decades.  For us, an evacuation was just out of the question.  We were not going to abandon our responsibilities regardless of risk.  A few years ago I participated in a FEMA sponsored workshop on community preparedness.  We knew that there are people who need oxygen, chemotherapy, medications, dialysis and other treatments to survive more than a week or two.  Even more, are aged or crippled with MS and other diseases that prohibit them from accessing food and critical needs without aid.

What we learned at that event was that there was little the emergency services could do for these folks under major disaster situations.  It is estimated that the majority of those over 70 years of age and those who are functionally disabled or medically dependent will die within the first thirty days of a full –scale national disaster.

If you are among the elderly or disabled or anyone important to you is, you need to adjust your plans accordingly.  If you have disabled parents, your whole survival plans are going to be limited and modified.  Evacuation may be impossible.  Rescue and defense may be the only option.  Disabilities (yours or other) and handicaps will reduce your chances, but it does not mean that you are doomed.  Realistic preparedness can provide a real chance for your survival regardless of conditions.

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As we grow older (we all will) our capacity to carry loads for long distances is going to diminish.  In addition to muscle loss, we are more prone to illness and sensitive to temperature extremes.  Heat diseases, COPD, and arthritis may make any kind of “hiking” out of the question.  If you are living alone or with an aged partner you have two options.  First: If you can move to a safer location away from the city and high populations do so.  Second: have a plan to drive or be driven to a safer area well before situations get critical.   If these are not an option or unlikely plan to shelter in place as best you can. That means having water, food, warmth, medications, and self-protection that works for you in your conditions.

Fire is your biggest threat to in place survival. Can you use a fire extinguisher?  You must have ways to escape a fire that works for you.  In the gravest extreme, you still need to have some kind of evacuation pack. Even if you can only carry or drag 5 to 10 pounds it’s far better than nothing.  A qt of water, medications, snacks, a flashlight a Space Blanket and a weapon will give you a big advantage. If you can get a few hundred yards to some other shelter you have a chance. Some perfectly healthy people will die from unpreparedness and be giving up. Some prepared and determined disabled folks will get through with a little luck and determination.

There are two classes of disability related to emergency situations. We have the cooperative, but disabled who will aid in their own care to whatever extent they can and the uncooperative who may have dementia, or are just in violent denial. This last category is very difficult to help. They may fight your efforts and even sabotage your plans and equipment. Getting them to a care facility in advance is your best option, but keep in mind that many of these facilities were abandoned during Hurricane Katrina and would be again.  They have good plans for limited time and area disasters, but not for massive collapse events. Otherwise, you are going to have to care for them as best you can while dealing with survival and defense priorities.

The cooperative disabled may be able to aide significantly in their own preparations and survival actions depending on the extent of their problems.  You must discuss these issues with them now.  Build up supplies of everything they need (as above) at their location and show them what to do.  Give special attention to oxygen and critical medications they need. Have a plan to take them to safety or to your safe location ahead of an event.  If possible make arrangements with neighbors for their care until you can get to them.

Also read: How To Find Natural Medicines In The Wild, And “Survival Home Remedies”

How to Escape Disaster in an Urban Scenario

Bugging Out With Limited Mobility: Elderly or Disabled

It’s fairly easy to find advice for bugging out with ‘people in good health,’ but what if you, or someone you love, are not in reasonable health? How can you ensure all your family members – not just the healthy ones – are prepared to bug out?

This concern was recently raised by Kimberly, a reader of this site, who emailed me asking how she and her husband could adapt their bug out plan as they age to ensure their deteriorating health doesn’t limit their evacuation options.


Kimberly’s already on the right track – considering potential problems before they happen is fundamental to preparedness. The best tools for survival challenges are knowledge and proper planning. Thinking about plausible future scenarios and how they could potentially impact her bug out plan puts Kimberly ahead of the game.

Let’s take her the rest of the way by examining ways we can modify our bug out a plan to accommodate someone with limited mobility, whether they are elderly or disabled.

Keep in mind that this post can apply to any less-abled person in your crew, not strictly people with age-related mobility issues. The following suggestions can be used to accommodate a disaster plan for an elderly relative, an injured or sick person, an infant, or an otherwise disabled person.

Bugging Out With Limited Mobility Family Members

The first step is to realistically evaluate their ability to move over long distances.

Make sure you’re aware of exactly how much movement they’re capable of – can they walk for a full day, half a day, two hours, or less? Some people, specifically infants and people in wheelchairs, will need your help to be mobile, while others could improve their speed with the help of aids such as walking sticks.

If current limitations could be overcome through improved fitness or lifestyle changes (e.g. better eating, quitting smoking), encourage your family member to start making those changes now.

Based on the results of your assessment, the next step is to choose the best option for your situation:

1. For people with highly limited or no mobility: Shelter in place (bug in instead of bugging out)

Your first consideration will be where to shelter – will you stay in the person’s home or move them to another location?

Wherever you choose, make sure you consider the following:

  • If you will be assisting them, consider using their home as your bug out location
  • Write a list of all the items you will need in case of emergency (e.g. food, dry goods, tools, water) and make sure there are adequate stockpiles at your shelter location
  • Thoroughly assess the location of possible threats – is it in a floodplain, tornado corridor, or earthquake fault zone? Understanding the type of emergency situations you could potentially be facing will help you better prepare.
  • If you don’t live with the person or may be out of the house when disaster strikes, consider what obstacles may interfere with your ability to reach the shelter – are there roads between you and them that may be blocked, impassible, or clogged with traffic?
  • Ensure the location can accommodate everyone in your bug out the team with sleeping areas and sufficient stores of food, water, and hygiene items.

2. For people with a medium level of mobility: Shelter in place or limit your bug out

Even if you are planning to bug out with a person of moderate mobility abilities, the best option may still be to shelter in place. If you live in an area with rough terrain or frequent bad weather, consider sheltering in place and follow the guidelines above.

Limited bug out

If you believe there’s a reasonable expectation that your limited mobility member will be able to walk for half a day or more, you can plan a limited bug out that will accommodate their needs.

If it’s possible to use a car to cover some ground, plan to drive as far as possible and walk from there. When incorporating a car into your survival plan, be sure to consider the following:

  • Make sure you have the right vehicle to bug out in as well as a specific vehicular bug out kit packed in addition to your personal backpacks
  • Include alternative locations in your bug out plan in the event you can’t get to your car or travel in the direction you had originally planned

Packing for a limited mobility person can be challenging as they may only be able to carry a light BOB, or more realistically, none at all. If you’ll be traveling with a group, distribute gear needed for your limited mobility member amongst other members so as not to burden one person, maximizing your group’s ability to travel.

Ensure you pack items that will make camp as comfortable as possible for them.  The more comfortable the person is, the better able they will be to recover and travel further the next day. Consider packing a larger bedroll than you would typically bring or perhaps a lightweight folding stool or backpacking hammock for rest breaks.

Similar to morphine

By 1898, Lactuca virosa was listed in the United States Pharmacopoeia and in 1911, in the British Pharmaceutical Codex. Wild lettuce lost favor among the medical community in the US in the 1940s, but by the 1970s, it regained popularity among the “hippies” as a legal psychotropic, sometimes mixed with catnip or damiana.

Today, there are still a number of legal alternate hallucinogenic products that contain “lettuce opium” or a lettuce derivative. They are typically smoked or heated in small bowls, so the user can inhale the vapors.

Currently, Lactuca Virosa is listed as an unscheduled drug by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which means you can legally grow, purchase, and own it without a prescription or license.

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For people with fair mobility: Bug out with some adjustments

A person with fair mobility should be able to travel a decent distance, albeit at a slower pace or with more frequent rest stops than a healthier person.  However, consideration should still be made for easing the impact of hard travel.

A bug out vehicle would still be great in this scenario if that option is available to you. If not, and your group must carry their gear, be sure to limit the amount carried by someone with only fair mobility to ensure the burden won’t impact their ability to travel.

While it is always important to be supportive and focus on the abilities – not disabilities – of your bug out team, try and keep expectations realistic.

People, especially those with little backpacking or survival experience, can sometimes become overly enthusiastic about their own abilities.  It may be a long journey and everyone will need to keep their strength up.

Despite the confidence, some of your members may have in their endurance abilities, make sure to use your best judgment and plan to enforce periodic breaks if need be.

Making Your Own Plan If You Have Limited Mobility

Now let’s take a look at the opposite scenario: you are now the individual with the physical limitation that a bug out plan must be accommodated to.

If you have family members or friends to rely on, share the tips above with them to ensure you’re all prepared should you need to bug out. However, if you don’t have the good fortune of having someone close by you can depend on, you will need to build your own disaster plan to accommodate your needs.

Your first step in developing a functional plan is to perform a realistic assessment of your own abilities. If you are on your own or bugging out with another person of limited mobility, the best option will most often be to shelter in place, also known as bugging in.

The following are ways you can prepare your home or chosen shelter to accommodate your physical limitations in case of disaster:

  • Ensure your home is adequately stocked with supplies you will need in case of an emergency such as food, water, tools, medications, etc.
  • Secure a means to communicate with the outside world should cell phones and landlines become unusable, such as a HAM radio
  • Learn basic survival skills and practice them as much as possible to maximize your odds of thriving without support
  • Do whatever you can to increase your ability to be self-sufficient, such as growing a garden or learning new skills
  • If possible, dig a well to ensure access to a reliable water supply (keep in mind you will need a manual pump or electric backup for this option)
  • Bugging out in a vehicle should be considered only as a last resort; if your car fails and your physical limitations prevent you from traveling by foot, you could be stranded without help
  • If you are considering bugging out in a vehicle, make sure you have a vehicle BOB packed and anything you may need to help you travel by foot once you reach your destination (cane, wheelchair, walker, crutches, etc.)

Also read: How To Preserve Fruits, Vegetables, And Meats. How Dehydration Preserves Foods?

Take Stock Of The 37 Most Important Shelf-Stable Goods To Buy From The Grocery Store.


The best offense is always a strong defense; using these tips to modify your bug out a plan to accommodate for current or future limitations will make you that much more prepared when disaster strikes.

As I mentioned in the beginning, this article was inspired by a real-life problem faced by one of our readers. If you have any questions keeping you up at night about survival, preparedness planning, survival skills, or the best gear to choose. You never know, it just might save your life!

Your Thoughts?

Have you been planning on supporting a limited mobility person in your bug out plan?  Are you planning to overcome any limitations you have yourself?

The Lost Ways -second edition- is a good read, and you should start reading it right away, but unlike other survival materials that end up collecting dust on a shelf, this one is different, because when a crisis strikes America, it will be the only thing you will hurry to grab and read, heart pounding.

It will become a reservoir of lost survival knowledge that passed through time and space to find its way in your home when you need it the most, when your family needs to stay well fed, safe and protected while all hell breaks loose. When rules don’t apply anymore, there’ll be no 911 to call and you have to fend for yourself, just like our forefathers did … not only to survive but to make America one of the greatest countries on Earth.

Your future self will look into the past and high-five the present you for having the foresight to make one of the best decisions of your life. One that costs you virtually nothing but one day could prove to be worth everything.

Our great grandparents arrived from Europe with the clothes on their backs and the opportunity to make a life based on their skills. All while facing a” succeed or die” scenario. Not much political correctness there. But there’ll be no such thing in a crisis either.


  1. Great article, something that every prepper should think about even if they do not have anyone in your group Who may be disabled at this time. And because it is very easy for someone to step off the porch and break an ankle and become temporarily or permanently disabled. And injuries from auto accidents happen every day that disable people. Your son gets a major concussion playing football can’t walk very well can’t see very well now he’s disabled for a while. You can go on and on and on about what disabilities can happen and if you don’t have any type of a plan for that possibility when the SHTF you may have to make some hard decisions that you’re not ready for. Do a little brainstorming and see what you can figure out for these type of scenarios. Good luck