Disaster preparedness tips for providers of families facing Alzheimer’s and dementia

Aug. 29, 2019

Today, there are more than 5.5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease. Disaster situations, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards or forest fires, can have a significant impact on everyone's safety, but they can be especially stressful and confusing for individuals with dementia. Taking measures to plan ahead for disaster situations can prevent injuries and help a person with living with the disease feel more relaxed and less overwhelmed.

Being prepared in case of an emergency is crucial. The Alzheimer’s Association offers tips for healthcare professionals to share with their patients that are facing Alzheimer’s and other dementias to help them prepare for such extraordinary circumstances.

Plan ahead: Discuss making a comprehensive safety plan for disaster situations. If your patient uses a walker or wheelchair, how will accommodations be made? If they have an oxygen tank, discuss creating easy access to portable tanks. To stay proactive, have a conversation regarding medications and prescriptions and keeping those well stocked. Medicare’s Getting Care and Drugs in a Disaster Area explains how Medicare beneficiaries have special rights to out-of-network care if they live in an area where the President has declared a disaster. Talk to your patients about the possibility of enrolling them in a wandering response service. The Alzheimer’s Association offers MedicAlert + Alzehimer’s Association Safe Return , designed to assist in the return of those who get separated from their caregivers. Always make your patients’ medical records accessible. Provide copies of the person’s medical history, a list of medications, your information as well as their family’s contact information for them to share with people other than their partner or spouse.

During an evacuation: Have a conversation about what to expect during an evacuation and how to prevent separation and agitation. Instruct your patient’s caregiver to do their best to remain calm as this may help establish a positive tone. Changes in routine, traveling and new environments may increase  the risk for wandering and agitation for people with dementia so discuss staying alert for unexpected reactions that may result from these changes. When appropriate, have your patient’s caregiver share their diagnosis with others, such as hotel or shelter staff, so they can better assist. Make sure to inform any and all caregivers to not leave the person with dementia alone, and to always stay together or in a group as it only takes a moment for a person to get lost.

Important Resources:

● Dial 911 for immediate assistance for an emergency situation

● Dial (800) 272-3900 to reach the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 Helpline

● The American Red Cross website offers information about preparing for an emergency and where

to find shelter and supplies in a disaster

● Ready.gov has information about what to do before, during and after a disaster

● The National Hurricane Center provides hurricane alerts and tips to prepare for a hurricane

For more information, please visit alz.org/disaster-preparation.