Disaster Planning for People with Dementia

Dissater Planning for People with Dementia. Win McNamee Getty Images News/ Getty Images

Whether it's a tornado, hurricane, fire or flood, disasters have a way of making us realize how important emergency preparedness plans are. And how much more so for people who have dementia. Although you can't anticipate every possible emergency, you will be far more equipped to respond, both physically and emotionally, if you plan ahead.

If you have a loved one with Alzheimer's disease, vascular dementia or another kind of dementia, consider addressing the following areas of concern:

  • Medications

Have extra medications on hand. It's easy in the busyness of life to let medications run down to the last pill before attempting to get a refill. But in an emergency situation, not having certain medications on hand can be detrimental to your loved one's physical and mental condition. Be certain to use care with medication storage so that your loved one will not accidentally take extra medicines.

Medication Storage and Administration Options

  • Medical Care Supplies

If your family member requires incontinence products, oxygen tanks or dressing changes for a wound, make sure you have enough supplies available.

  • Food

In case of a community-wide emergency, you will want to ensure that you have adequate food for your family. For the person with dementia, that should include his favorite cookies or other snack that is part of his daily routine since that could provide comfort and reassurance in a disaster.

  • Water

You should have enough bottled water for everyone who lives in the house for three days.

  • Evacuation Plan

Have an evacuation plan. Decide which door you will exit, where you will go and which route you will use.

You will want to choose two different destinations: one close to home if the only location affected by the emergency is your own home, (in the case of a fire, for example) and one location if the surrounding community is also affected.

In that scenario, you can determine ahead of time if there is a relative or friend you can drive to who lives in a different community. It can be helpful to have the location mapped out ahead of time and printed out on paper because during some emergencies, global positioning services (GPS) might not function.

  • Medical Information

In an emergency, your loved one with dementia may not be able to clearly share his medical history with those responding to help. Write out a brief, up-to-date summary of his care needs, medications, diagnoses and his physician. Make sure to include any medication allergies.

His medical information should also include papers that outline his choices about medical treatment, such as:

  • Contact Information

Clearly document the name, address and phone number of a few people who are aware of your loved one's condition and would be willing to assist in an emergency. If something happens to you, it's important that your loved one and those trying to help him have this information.

  • Identification

Consider using an identification bracelet. You can purchase identification jewelry that is both attractive and functional; make sure it includes your family member's name and medical condition. A specific option for identification is the Alzheimer's Association MedicAlert and Safe Return program. This program can assist in many situations, including if your family member accidentally wanders away from home.

  • Remain Calm and Provide Reassurances

In any emergency situation and with any person, it's important to remain calm. When you're trying to help someone with dementia who might be experiencing memory loss and agitation, remaining calm is that much more important.

Remember that people with dementia tend to take their clues from you- your tone of voice as well as your non-verbal cues including facial expressions and physical actions. Throughout the emergency, provide lots of reassurances, both verbally (such as "We're going to be fine") and non-verbally (such as smiling and holding his hand). Your awareness of the importance to remain calm for your loved one can also be helpful to you while you cope with the unknown or wait for assistance.

Benefits of Planning Ahead

A few minutes devoted now to planning ahead can equate to less distress and even saved lives, later. Even if you never need to use this emergency plan, you can enjoy peace of mind knowing that it's there, just in case. And, if a disaster does strike, you'll be more equipped to care for yourself and your loved one with dementia.

Sources:
Alzheimer's Association. Disaster Preparedness For Dementia Caregivers.February 2010. http://www.alz.org/alzwa/documents/disaster-preparedness-workbook-for-dementia-caregivers-updated.pdf

Alzheimer's Association. In a disaster. Accessed November 15, 2013. http://www.alz.org/care/alzheimers-dementia-disaster-preparedness.asp

US Department of Health and Human Services. National Institute on Aging. Alzheimer's Disease and Disaster Preparedness. June 11, 2012. http://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers/publication/alzheimers-disease-and-disaster-preparedness

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