There was recently a request for a SurvivalBlog article on “aging out” of being an active prepper. The article request mentioned: “Things that sounded so doable 20 years ago are no longer possible for us. Looking at TEOTWAWKI from closer to 80 than 50 is a whole different kettle of fish.” (SurvivalBlog, February 23, 2023.)
I’d never heard the term ‘aging out’ until JWR thoughtfully lit me up like a Christmas Tree in suggesting this as a writing contest topic.
I’ll take the bait, because what this 78-year-old prepper has heard is the relentlessly ticking clock getting louder each year since the Y2K panic began my prepping days. Only lately have I become aware of what a large and steadily growing demographic bulge we ‘elders’ represent in the prepping community. So it’s time someone put at least a dent in the surprising scarcity of published articles focusing on the special challenges we face, what we bring to the table, and how age is changing our options.
The most obvious place to start is to be clear on our terms i.e., what exactly is ‘aging out?’ One common and relevant definition offers ‘To become too old for an activity, program, or institution; to become too mature for a behavior.’ Ah so. Beyond dispute, we are all eventually going to age out of this mortal journey. But what is very much up for dispute is how long and in what ways we elders can make ourselves relevant—both physically and mentally—to the prepping game. And only to re-state the obvious, getting everyone who can and who will to ‘stay in the game’ is literally becoming a life-or-death challenge in the face of our rapidly crumbling society.
The Challenges Elders Face
Of course the most obvious challenges—in both reality and perception—focus on our diminishing physical capabilities. The mirror and calendar don’t lie, and there are no shortages of events in our daily lives to remind us of this fact. But what a mind-game we play on ourselves when we buy into a self-limiting perception of this reality! How many times have we listened to some 35-year-old complain ‘I’m too old for this’ when it comes to something we with a bit of effort could probably do ourselves? But before we move on to the behaviors of others, let’s do a quick review of our more personal challenges, along with some practical responses to them.
Challenge: Most elders take prescription medications, sometimes many. All with Big Pharm thundering the dangers of using those pills beyond their expiration date.
Response: Did you know it wasn’t until 1979 that Big Pharm lobbyists ‘persuaded’ our famously corrupt congress to mandate expiration dates on prescription meds? If you think this was done for your health, consider the results of an FDA-Department of Defense study asking a pertinent question: What happens to pills after their expiration date?
With a large and expensive stockpile of drugs, the military faced tossing out and replacing its drugs every few years. What they found from the study is 90% of more than 100 drugs, both prescription and over the counter, were perfectly good to use even 15 years after the expiration date. Source: health.harvard.edu, August, 2020
Please do take the time to research what exceptions may apply to specific pills you are taking. So too it should be noted here that expiration dates on the more volatile liquid medications should be observed. And always, for longest storage keep your meds in a cool, dry, dark storage. Not so good for your health: Pondering the fabulous profit margins Big Pharm enjoys every year in mandating the replacement of perfectly good medicines.
Challenge: Our pill-conscious society often ignores the simple reality that much if not most of our health is simply a matter of basic hygiene. Though this ignorance is not unique to elders, it is we who suffer the most when disease strikes.
Response: Stay on top of this while setting an example for others. When was the last time you wiped down the kitchen counters with anti-bacterial wipes? The inside of your refrigerator? Your bathroom tub is one of the most notorious bacteria pits in the house. How old is that toothbrush you put in your mouth? And don’t forget those little midget super-spreaders running around the house, aka your grandchildren. If you think maintaining good hygiene is expensive, just wait till you see the bill after neglecting it.
Challenge: Elders own the market—figuratively and literally—when it comes to needing prescription glasses, hearing aids, orthotics, braces, etc. Can you drive to the supermarket, shop, and then lug all those paper bags out of the car and into the kitchen without your glasses, a back brace?
Response: Don’t be beguiled into complacency just because you have a friend who is usually available to help. At your age you don’t need the latest-model car or designer clothes. Much better investments include backup prescription glasses, hearing aids (and batteries), dental fixtures (and Poligrip), etc. And don’t forget some safety features (e.g. grab bars) around the house. Your ability to function alone, or to become an asset to a prepper group that may be considering you in their ranks, depends on you sustaining your basic functions and mobility. Don’t be ‘that guy’ who goes from asset to liability for lack of attention to such basics.
Some of us have already encountered the bigger challenge of others’ perceptions; one in which it’s not so much our actual health, but rather the perception by others looking at our gray hair. Do you carry yourself like someone a group of thirty-something preppers would want in their midst? This is no small question. With history solidly backing him up, JWR continually reminds us that our survival is largely dependent on becoming a member of a functioning group e.g., like-minded family, neighbors, community. The Mormons for example, excel at this in word and deed. It should therefore come as no surprise that the prudent prepper will keep in mind how we present ourselves and our homes when we ask to join an established prepper tribe.
What Elders Bring to the Table
Elder preppers bring a wealth of assets to a like-minded group, though it may not be immediately evident to all its members. No small part of this ‘blindness’ is due to the most unfortunate over-emphasis some groups place on physical strength, and especially firearms expertise as their core focus. This is not to dismiss the importance of weapons. To shamelessly plagiarize from the great Flashman novel series ‘The thing about guns is that you hardly ever need them . . . but when you do, you tend to need them badly.’ Prepper groups with thinking members—the ones you want to join or even form yourself—will understand it’s not all about brute strength and firepower. So, what meaningful traits and skills can elders add to a group?
Can you sit quietly for hours by a window—perhaps with a laptop hobby—looking out onto the street, while the others are working on more labor-intensive chores? If so, you are an invaluable Intelligence collector. And if you are the first to spot approaching looters, or the stranger staring at your house, you may well also prove to be a lifesaver.
Will your superior life skills become critical as you note the group appears oblivious to the fact that one of its members is struggling, about to unravel? If so, you are a providential psychologist, instrumental in maintaining the all-important group cohesion during the most stressful of times.
Can you cook beyond hot dogs when the microwave breaks? If so, then you just became the Group Morale Officer for your tribe.
Have you lived in the area for a few years? If so, you probably have a good grasp of reputations amongst your neighbors i.e., who to trust and more importantly, who not to trust. If so, you are worth your weight in gold as an advisor to the alpha male or female leading your group.
Are you a combat veteran, a leader in some business, automobile mechanic, experienced hunter or fisherman, a handyman with a good set of tools, ham radio operator, a homemaker who raised four teenagers without killing even one of them? When you get down to it, elders’ life experiences can add a potent addition to most any group when things turn ugly.
How Age Changes Elders’ Prepping Options
At first blush, this may seem a grim picture. But on closer inspection, there remains far more positives than negatives in a TEOTWAWKI environment. As always, a little perspective goes a long way.
It is for example, not at all feasible to consider elders strapping-on some huge rucksack and marching off into the wilderness to live off the land. Then again, who would do something like that? Is there a credible prepping source who doesn’t rate such a move as little more than slow-moving suicide?
To add another example, nor is it feasible for an elder to single-handedly attempt to manage a farm with livestock in a rural setting. Other than the unavoidable heavy labor, this scenario is incredibly vulnerable from a security perspective. If you become sick or injured? Snowed in?
The common thread here is that most of the options no longer realistically available to elders, are the same options that pose extraordinary demands on even the young and physically fit. Kit Carson could probably pull this off, but how many of his breed do you know? So, let’s review a few realities that dictate the best elder options.
First, foremost, and most painful . . . you need to come out of the country to be closer to the repetitive medical care you already need or will likely need in the short years to come. And yes, this is still true if you are living with your spouse. If someone else must drive you through hazardous territory to a medical appointment, you are exposing both of you to unknown dangers on the road. If it’s your spouse, who is watching your home while you two are gone? If it’s a neighbor, who is watching over his/her home while they are escorting you? Lastly, that someone else is not available for the chores and security duties they would be expected to perform back home.
Even in good times weather can turn your three-hour drive to/from medical care into a traumatic event. In January of one year my wife suffered a major, traumatic fall in our home in Reno, Nevada. I was at that moment doing—of all things—EMT training at Priest Lake, Idaho; then undergoing a major snowstorm. I couldn’t get away from the lake until the following day; still a harrowing drive in what passes for daylight in northern Idaho during the winter.
Second, you’ll need to pick your urban or suburban location carefully. Don’t, as my sister did, buy a condo across the street from a large Section 8 housing project. If your need for repeat medical care is important enough to have generated this move, it’s important enough to make the location of that health care facility your priority for finding a nearby residence to live in. If it comes down to a condo or apartment, keep it below the 7th floor (and above the first floor) to ensure fire truck ladders can reach your floor level. And of course, the condo or apartment must have a washer-dryer in the unit. Your biggest challenge will be maximizing the available room for at least the basics of water, food, etc. Find some of the many good books available on urban prepping.
Third, do not substitute a bug-out plan back to the country, in lieu of preps at your house. It might work if you leave earlier than ‘the golden horde’ in the face of a major fire or hurricane; and you have a specific place to go. But it’s no plan at all in the event of a sudden, major grid down situation (e.g., PG&E’s disasters in California) or a flash street riot should Antifa and BLM be in the mood to express their dissatisfaction with America.
Fourth, work to develop a rapport with your doctor if you don’t already have that. It’s just possible he or she will write an additional prescription for your meds (unless they are pain meds). You will have to pay out of pocket as insurance won’t cover your ‘stash’ requirement, but some meds are not all that expensive. If antibiotics are in the mix, don’t forget the bird and fish alternatives.
Fifth, history teaches us that starvation and disease are far bigger threats than violence. Rarely mentioned as they’re not on the glamorous end of prepping, but for people having to stay inside much of the day such things as laxatives, toilet paper, and a bucket with a toilet seat, can assume a huge importance. Many non-prepping apartment dwellers found this out to their great sorrow, after using their building hallways for such duties when Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey on Oct. 29th, 2012. If you’re reading this, you’re better than that!
As the reader will have gathered by now, your author assesses elder preppers as a most valuable asset in most all TEOTWAWKI versions. This is not offered merely as sentimentality. When the British Army was routed out of Afghanistan in 1842, the Afghan warlord Akbar Khan captured in the chaos the wives of several officers—including to his everlasting regret—Lady Sale, the wife of the commanding officer Major General Sir Robert Sale. In the nine months of captivity that followed, the 52-year-old Lady Sale proved herself to be a non-stop thorn in Khan’s side. So much so that Khan dumped his initial ransom demand and virtually begged the British to take her back!
Today would be a very good time to take a second look at the elders in your world, especially the prepping elders. They know things. Invest some time in getting to know them better and reap the rewards.