Hurricane Preparedness for Caregivers

Hurricane Season

Alzheimer’s Association Encourages Caregivers to PREPARE NOW

Families and caregivers of persons with memory disorders need to know how to address the special needs of a person with Alzheimer’s during an emergency. Therefore, in addition to normal hurricane preparation, caregivers need to take warning now and prepare. The Florida Gulf Coast Chapter has developed the following emergency preparedness guidelines to assist families and caregivers coping with Alzheimer’s.

Advance preparations

  • Consult with your physician and pharmacy about what mechanisms they have in place for continuity of care and prescription needs in the event standard communications lines are down.
  • If your loved one lives in a residential facility, find out about its disaster and evacuation plans. Ask if you will be responsible for evacuating your loved one.
  • Prepare an emergency kit (see below for suggestions).
  • Enroll in MedicAlert® + Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return®, a 24-hour nationwide emergency response service for individuals with Alzheimer’s or related dementia that wander or who have a medical emergency. Call toll-free at 1.888.572.8566 or visit http://www.alz.org. If you are already enrolled in MedicAlert + Safe Return, make sure your information is up to date.
  • Keep all medications organized, in a safe and accessible place.
  • If you have a cell phone, store your emergency contact numbers including your local Alzheimer’s Association (800-272-3900). Have an additional pre-charged battery.
  • If you do not have a cell phone, keep an emergency call list with your medicines.
  • Pre-register at your county’s special needs shelter in case you need to evacuate to a shelter. See link “Special Needs Shelter” for a list of county phone numbers.
  • Know your evacuation route.

Emergency Kit

Consider preparing an emergency kit in advance. Keep it in a watertight container and store it in an easily accessible location. Your emergency kit might include:

  • Easy on/off clothes (a couple of sets).
  • Supplies of medication (or minimally, a list of medications with dosages).
  • Velcro shoes/sneakers.
  • Back-up pair of eyeglasses.
  • Incontinence products.
  • Extra identification items for the person, such as an ID bracelet and clothing tags.
  • Copies of legal documents (such as power of attorney), medical documents that indicate the individual’s condition and current medications, insurance cards, and Social Security cards.
  • Use waterproof bags to hold medications and documents.
  • Physician’s name, address and phone numbers (including cell phone).
  • Recent picture of the person with dementia.
  • Lotion (good for soothing person).
  • Flashlights and batteries
  • Battery-operated radio.
  • Earphones (calming music) loud areas may increase agitation of our love one
  • Simple activities – photo album, scrapbooks.

If a hurricane is coming your way:

  • Get yourself and the person with Alzheimer’s to a safe place.
  • If the need to evacuate is likely, do not delay. Try to leave as early as possible to minimize long delays in heavy traffic.
  • Alert others (family, friends, and medical personnel) that you are changing locations, and give them your contact information. Contact them regularly as you move.
  • Be sure there are people other than the primary caregiver who have copies of the person with dementia’s medical history, medications, and physician information and family contacts.
  • Purchase extra medications.
  • Stock up on bottled water, non-perishable foods.
  • Locate a pillow, toy, or something else to hug.
  • Have the Alzheimer’s Association and MedicAlert + Safe Return phone numbers.

During an evacuation:

Persons with dementia are especially vulnerable to chaos and emotional trauma.  They have a limited ability to understand what is happening and they may forget what they have been told about the disaster.  Be alert to potential reactions that may result from changes in routine, traveling or new environments including: agitation, pacing, wandering and delusions or hallucinations.

  • When appropriate, inform others (hotel or shelter staff, family members, airline attendants) that your loved one has dementia and may not understand what is happening.
  • Do not leave the person alone. It only takes a few minutes to wander away and get lost.
  • Changes in routine, traveling, and new environments can cause agitation and wandering behaviors including hallucinations, delusions and sleep disturbance.
  • Do your best to remain calm. The person with dementia will respond to the emotional tone you set.

Tips for preventing agitation:

  • Reassure the person. Hold hands or put your arm on his or her shoulder. Say things are going to be fine.
  • Find outlets for anxious energy. Take a walk together or engage the person in simple tasks.
  • Redirect the person’s attention if he or she becomes upset.
  • Move the person to a safer or quieter place, if possible. Limit stimulation.
  • Make sure the person takes medications as scheduled.
  • Schedule regular meals and maintain a regular sleep schedule.
  • Avoid detailed explanations.
  • Provide additional assistance with all activities of daily living.
  • Pay attention to cues that the person may be overwhelmed (fidgeting, pacing).
  • 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. Reassure.
  • Respond to the emotions being expressed rather than the content of the words. For example, say, “You’re frightened and want to go home. It’s ok. I’m right here with you.”
  • Don’t argue with the person or try to correct. 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. Let’s look at your photo book together.”

Take care of yourself:

Now more than ever caregivers need help managing their stress and handling some of the behaviors their loved ones may be experiencing during a hurricane.

  • Take care of yourself by finding a good listener to hear your thoughts and feelings about the event.
  • Find moments to breathe, meditate and reflect.

The Alzheimer’s Association staff can provide counseling, support and assist displaced families in finding care for their loved ones. Call us at 1-800-272-3900.

Below are additional disaster preparedness guides and information caregivers: