Alzheimer’s Caregivers Must Take Extra Precautions in Preparing for a Hurricane

Emergency situations, such as hurricanes, can significantly impact everyone’s safety, but they can be especially upsetting and confusing for individuals living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias in any stage of the disease. Being prepared is crucial. There are steps and precautions caregivers can take to be as ready as possible. Additionally, the Alzheimer’s Association staff can provide counseling, support and assist displaced families in finding care for their loved ones through a 24/7 helpline at 1.800.272.3900.

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Advanced Preparations

  • If the person with dementia lives in a residential building or attends an adult day center, learn about its disaster and evacuation plans. Find out who is responsible for evacuating everyone in the event of an emergency
  • Be sure the evacuation plan takes special needs into consideration. For example, if a walker or wheelchair is used, how will accommodations be made?
  • A Special Need Shelter provides more care and supervision that a general shelter to help meet any special needs during an evacuation. However, many of these shelters require you to pre-register and to reregister every year. Contact the special needs shelter in your county and find out what you need to do before a disaster happens
  • If oxygen is used, be sure there is easy access to portable tanks
  • Purchase extra medication; keep other supplies well stocked
  • Provide copies of the person’s medical history, a list of medications, physician information and family contacts to people other than a partner/spouse
  • Learn how to get prescriptions and care by downloading Medicare’s Getting Care and Drugs in a Disaster Area. It explains how Medicare beneficiaries have special rights to get out-of-network care if they live in an area where the President has declared a disaster
  • Favorite items or foods, including some liquid meals
  • The person with the disease’s favorite item (book, picture, purse)
  • Phone numbers for the Alzheimer’s Association (800.272.3900) and MedicAlert + Safe Return (800.625.3780)
  • Enroll in MedicAlert® + Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return®, a 24-hour nationwide emergency response service for people with dementia and their caregivers
  • Consider preparing an emergency kit in a watertight container and store it in an easily accessible location. Use waterproof bags to protect medications and documents. Items you may wish to include are:

Hurricane preparedness with Mike Coston

  • Easy on/off clothes (a couple of sets)
  • Supplies of medication (or, at least, a list of medications with dosages)
  • Velcro shoes/sneakers
  • A spare pair of eyeglasses
  • Incontinence products, if needed
  • Extra identification items such as an ID bracelet and clothing tags
  • Copies of legal documents, such as a power of attorney
  • Copies of medical documents that indicate the disease and current
  • medications
  • Copies of insurance and Social Security cards
  • Physician’s name, address and phone numbers, including cell phone
  • Recent picture of the person with dementia
  • Hand lotion or other comfort items
  • Bottled water

When You Know That an Emergency Is About to Take Place

  • Get yourself and the person with Alzheimer’s to a safe place, and bring the emergency kit with you if this can be done safely
  • If the need to evacuate is likely, do not delay. Try to leave as early as possible, as people with dementia do not move quickly. Try to keep calm, since the person may be particularly reactive to perceived upset. Leaving early will also tend to minimize long delays in heavy traffic, which can add stress for everyone
  • Alert others (family, friends, medical personnel) that you are changing locations, and give them your contact information. Update them regularly as you move

During an Evacuation

Even in the early stage of Alzheimer’s, changes in routine, traveling and new environments may increase the risk for wandering and agitation. Caregivers must stay alert for unexpected reactions that may result from these changes.

  • When appropriate, share the diagnosis with others, such as hotel or shelter staff, family members and airline attendants, so they can better assist
  • Try to stay together or with a group; it only takes a moment to get lost. Do not leave the person with dementia alone
  • Do your best to remain calm, as this may help establish a positive tone

Tips for Preventing Agitation

Be prepared for the person with dementia to experience some anxiety or confusion during an emergency. The following tips may help prevent agitation:

  • Find outlets for anxious energy, such as taking a walk together or engaging in simple tasks
  • Redirect the person’s attention if he or she becomes upset
  • Move to a safer or quieter place, if possible. Limit stimulation
  • Make sure the person is taking medications as scheduled
  • Try to schedule regular meals and maintain the usual sleep schedule
  • Avoid elaborate or detailed explanations. Use concrete terms
  • Follow brief explanations with reassurance
  • Be prepared to provide additional assistance with all activities of daily living
  • Pay attention to cues such as fidgeting and pacing, which may indicate that the
  • person is overwhelmed
  • Remind the person that he or she is in the right place
  • Helpful hints during an episode of agitation
  • Approach the person from the front and use his or her name
  • Use calm, positive statements and a patient, low-pitched voice
  • Respond to the emotions expressed rather than the words. For example, “You’re frightened and want to go home. It’s OK, I’m here with you”
  • Don’t argue with or correct the person. Instead, affirm his or her experience, reassure and try to divert attention. For example, “The noise in this shelter is frightening. Let’s see if we can find a quieter spot and look at your photo book”

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