Alzheimer’s and Natural Disasters: Are You REALLY Prepared for the Worst?

Natural disasters are terrifying, but the sudden chaos and intense stimuli can be particularly scary for people with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Don’t wait until a tornado or hurricane hits to make a plan. By preparing in advance, you can ride out a natural disaster safely and minimize the emotional distress for both you and your loved one, as well as for other members of the family. Here are eight tips you can use to help you prepare.

8. Collect Emergency Supplies

During a natural disaster, you might not have time to hunt for medications and important documents. To ensure that a loved one with Alzheimer’s can stay safe, gather crucial supplies into an easy-to-grab kit. Start with crucial paperwork, including a copy of a photo ID, personal health records, proof of insurance, and power of attorney papers. Then, write out a list of medications, including their dosage amounts and times. If you can, put in extra supplies of each drug to use in an emergency. Finally, include self-care items: clothing, ID bracelets, food, water, supplies for incontinence, and batteries for medical devices.

Photo: Flickr/Global X

7. Subscribe to an Alert System

Enable rescuers and first responders to care for your loved one by enrolling in a program such as MedicAlert + Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return. That way, if a loved one wanders away or gets separated during a natural disaster, the program’s ID jewelry can help return them home.

Photo: Flickr/Contando Estrelas

6. Make an Emergency Plan

Before a natural disaster hits, sit down with your family to make a plan. Start by determining action steps for the primary caregiver: securing your loved one with Alzheimer’s, grabbing the emergency kit, and taking other crucial supplies, such as oxygen. If it’s unsafe to leave, decide where in the house the caregiver should take shelter. If leaving is possible, identify a rendezvous spot; the rest of the family should meet there when possible. Create a notification phone tree so the caregiver needs only to update one person, and be sure to include phone numbers and other contact methods. Include a list of places that provide emergency medication in case no in-network facilities are available. In an emergency, this plan can help the caregiver execute essential steps.

Photo: Flickr/NOAA Photo Library

5. Choose Shelter Locations

In your emergency plan, include a list of potential shelters that are safe for the person with Alzheimer’s. Start with comfortable, homey environments that can create a welcome sense of calm: namely, the homes of friends and family. If the person is likely to require medical help, list nearby hospitals. Finally, speak to local emergency workers to identify shelter locations in high schools and community centers. Include the address of each location, along with directions in case GPS and phone services are down.

Photo: Flickr/The U.S. Army

4. Plan Distractions and Redirection

The intensity of a natural disaster can agitate a person with Alzheimer’s, making them anxious and scared. To boost safety during an emergency, plan distractions and ways to redirect. Make a list of the person’s favorite topics to create conversational bridges, and include a list of calming phrases to help the caregiver focus during a scary situation. Choose distracting activities that can be done in an enclosed space: pack supplies for an art project, download favorite songs onto a small MP3 player, or use a noise machine to create a more soothing environment.

Photo: Flickr/Donna McNiel

3. Stay Close and Secure the Premises

Amid the unsettling chaos of a natural disaster, a person with Alzheimer’s is more likely to wander. As you plan for an emergency, be sure to stress the importance of staying close to your loved one. In your emergency plan, include a security checklist: engage out-of-reach locks, turn on door and window alarms, and remove items such as car keys from view.

Photo: Flickr/sach1tb

2. Respond To Emotions

For a person with Alzheimer’s, emotions can be high during an emergency. For caregivers, it’s important to acknowledge and validate those emotions. If the person is scared, you might say, “I’m so sorry that you’re upset. I understand. I am going to stay here with you until you feel better.” By mirroring the emotion and offering an immediate calming statement, you can diffuse intense feelings.

Photo: Flickr/Luis Henriquez

1. Be Reassuring

As you weather the storm, it’s important not to let your fears affect a loved one with Alzheimer’s. It’s natural for the person to ask questions. To calm their anxiety, answer the question as simply as possible with easily understandable terms. Then, reassure the person that everything is going to be all right. Phrases such as, “You’re safe here,” or “I am staying with you,” when said in a calm and confident tone, can go a long way toward reducing stress.

Photo: Flickr/Lindz Graham

While it can be scary to endure a natural disaster with a loved one who has Alzheimer’s, it’s possible to stay safe and calm. By creating a detailed plan, gathering supplies, and preparing emotional coping strategies, you can make the best of a bad situation, and hopefully, see the sun shine again.

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