The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season has been hyperactive, featuring five major hurricanes so far. In late August, Hurricane Harvey became the first major hurricane to make landfall in the United States since 2005. In early September, Hurricane Irma became the first Category 5 hurricane to impact the northern Leeward Islands on record, as well as equaling the strongest hurricane ever to make landfall in the Atlantic basin. While natural disasters can affect all of us in terrible ways, they can be especially problematic to elderly ones and those with dementia. For example, ten nursing home residents died from extreme heat in Florida after Hurricane Irma knocked out the power and A/C at the nursing home. In another case, nursing home residents were trapped in Texas when the nursing home became flooded for hours before authorities rescued them.
These disaster situations (including hurricanes, tornadoes, heat waves, forest fires, and blizzards) can be especially confusing and upsetting to elderly ones with dementia. However, there are steps that you can take to assist your elderly loved ones with dementia in case of a disaster.
Prepare mentally that disasters happen and you are potentially at risk. Learn about disasters that can happen in your area and make an emergency plan. Make sure your emergency plan accommodates your loved one’s specific needs, such as an oxygen tank or walker. If your elder loved one 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. Have the contact information for your friends and relatives. If your elderly loved one receives routine health procedures at a clinic or with home health, learn who the back-up service providers are and obtain their contact information. 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 your elder loved one 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. 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.
Prepare an Emergency Kit
Put together an emergency kit in a watertight container, and store it in an easily accessible location. Power, water, phone, and transportation services can fail. If you own a car, try to keep the fuel tank at least half full, and always have food, water, and emergency supplies in your home. These are the types of supplies you may want to have:
- Copies of important papers such as legal papers, list of medication and dosages, insurance information, Social Security cards, and copies of prescriptions
- Several sets of extra clothing
- Supplies of medication
- Incontinence products
- Identification items
- Extra pair of eyeglasses
- Recent picture of the person with dementia
- Physician’s name, address, and phone number
- Bottled water
- Flashlight and radio with extra batteries
- Favorite foods or items
- Sturdy shoes
- First-aid kit
During an Evacuation
For a person with Alzheimer’s, changes in routine, traveling, and new environments can increase the risk for wandering and agitation. Stay alert to unexpected reactions that may result from these changes. When appropriate, share the diagnosis with others, such as hotel or shelter staff, family members, or airline attendants, so they can better assist you. Try to stay together. Do not leave the person with dementia alone. Do your best to remain calm, as this can engender a positive tone.
Following these tips and being prepared can help you and your loved ones deal with an emergency situation in the best way possible.