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Coping with Stress

elderly man looking out car window

After a Natural Disaster: Tips for Older Adults Living Alone

Minnell L. Tralle, Extension Educator — Family Resiliency

March 2010; Reviewed by Kathleen A. Olson, Extension Educator — Family Resiliency.

Experiencing a natural disaster such as a flood can leave one anxious and afraid. Even after the floods have subsided an older adult may still have much to worry about. Understanding the issues that cause worry and developing strategies to reduce stress can help with the recovery.

This can be especially difficult for older adults who live alone. There may be decisions related to clean up, repair, insurance claims and much work to be done to get one’s home back to normal if at all possible. While older adults may have family members willing to help, they are often reluctant to ask for help, wanting to maintain their independence. Yet they worry. “Did I make the wrong decision?” “Is someone taking advantage of me?” “Do I have enough money?” It may feel like there is a need to make decisions quickly and things that are happening are out of the persons’ control. All of these things contribute to stress and anxiety. Older adults may be more vulnerable to scams for construction or repair work. They may need help identifying reliable and reputable contractors.

While no one can do anything about the weather, there is something that can be done to control worrying. Here are some simple strategies to reduce stress and anxiety and begin to regain control again.

Do one thing at a time. Everything that has happened and needs to be done can be overwhelming to think about. Focusing too much on news reports can be distracting. Tackling projects one at a time and completing them before moving to the next is a good way to help gain control over stress.

Keep a routine. Having a routine is a way to maintain control in your life. Maintain eating and sleeping schedules, exercising if possible, and keeping regular schedules are important in the aftermath of a disaster.

Maintain contact with others. Keep in touch with family members. Talking about fears and concerns can help ease tensions. Talking with others about decisions and rebuilding plans can help provide another perspective and good advice on things to consider. Maintaining contact with neighbors can be important for someone living alone. If neighbors happen to be strangers, this is a good time to become acquainted.
Connecting with community services provided by aging services providers can uncover resources for older adults. They can also connect older adults to other services such as FEMA, housing, respite care or other assistance.

In some cases, the disaster may be more than the older adult can recover from without additional help. Signs that adults need stress management assistance include difficulty communicating thoughts, difficulty sleeping, increased use of drugs or alcohol, headaches or stomach problems, disorientation, reluctance to leave home, or fears of crowds, strangers or being alone. Talk to a physician or mental health professional if these symptoms occur.


Benson, W. F. (n.d.)  Disaster planning tips for older adults and their families. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Healthy Aging Program.

Wilken, C. S. (2005). Preparing for a disaster: Strategies for older adults.  Publication #FCS9215.  Gainesville, FL: University of Florida, IFAS Extension.

Related Resources

After a Natural Disaster: Ending Isolation — Talk, ask for help, and be with people.

Before a Natural Disaster: Planning and Preparing Tips for Older Adults — Preparation concerns for older adults.

Extreme Weather — Extension resources for floods, wind damage, winter impacts, and more.

Dealing with Stress — Online courses and resources for understanding and coping with stress.

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