Keeping loved ones living with Alzheimer’s safe during a disaster
September is National Preparedness Month. Emergency situations, such as tornados, hurricanes, heatwaves and blizzards, can significantly impact everyone’s safety, but they can be especially upsetting and confusing for individuals living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Being prepared is crucial. There are steps and precautions you can take to be as ready as possible. However, if you find yourself in an emergency situation and you haven’t made advance preparations, there are still actions you can take to keep you and the person living with dementia as safe as possible.
- Find out residential facility disaster plans. If an individual lives in a residential facility, learn about its disaster/evacuation plans. Find out who is responsible for evacuating the person in the event of an emergency.
- Take specific needs into account. For example, if the person with Alzheimer’s or other dementia uses a walker or portable oxygen, be sure your emergency evacuation plans accommodate these needs.
- Identify those who will help you. Are there friends or relatives you can stay with if you have to evacuate? If the person receives routine health procedures at a clinic or with home health, who are the back-up service providers? Have contact information easily accessible.
- Learn how to get prescriptions and care. Purchase extra medication to have a supply on hand. Download 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.
- Consider enrolling the person in a safety program. The Alzheimer’s Association offers MedicAlert® + Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return®, designed to assist in the return of those who get separated from their caregivers.
- Make sure medical records are accessible. It’s important to have access to health records, especially in the case of an emergency. There are now many options for storing personal health records, including online services that make it possible to access records from anywhere in the world. Regardless of how you choose to store personal health information, make sure there are people other than the primary caregiver who have access to or copies of the person with dementia’s medical history, medications, physician information and family contacts.
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. 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.
Help Is Available
- The American Red Cross website offers information about preparing for an emergency and where to find shelter and supplies in a disaster.
- The National Hurricane Center provides hurricane alerts and tips to prepare for a hurricane.
- Ready.gov has information about what to do before, during and after a disaster.
- The Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 Helpline is available around the clock, 365 days a year at 800.272.3900.
Prepare an emergency kit
Being prepared in case of an emergency is crucial. Put together an emergency kit in a watertight container, and store it in an easily accessible location.
- Copies of important documents, such as legal papers, a list of medications and dosages, insurance information and Social Security cards
- Several sets of extra clothing
- Supplies of medication (or, at least, a list of medications and dosages)
- Incontinence products
- Identification items, such as a MedicAlert® + Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return® ID bracelet and clothing labels
- A spare pair of eyeglasses
- A recent picture of the person with dementia
- Physician’s name, address, phone numbers, including cell phone
- Bottled water
- Flashlight with extra batteries
- Favorite items or foods