Calm Before the Storm

Three out of four Americans are at risk for some type of natural disaster – such as hurricane, wildfire, earthquake, tornado or flood. The 5.3 million Americans suffering from Alzheimer’s disease are particularly vulnerable. According to a recent report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the likelihood of severe weather due to climate changes will only increase in the coming years. Droughts, heavy downpours, excessive heat and intense hurricanes are likely to become more common.

Based on research with caregivers in disaster prone areas, the MIT AgeLab and The Hartford Advance 50 Team identified the top 10 essential elements of a disaster plan for the nearly 10 million family members or friends who provide care for someone with Alzheimer’s disease at home.

10 Tips for Caregivers

1. Build a large and diverse network that includes people outside of your day-to-day support system, but who are familiar with your loved one’s memory disorder.

2. Designate a substitute caregiver to assist your loved one if a disaster is imminent or strikes while they are home alone.

3. Do not assume your professional caregiver has a plan. Develop one together.

4. Have an evacuation plan. The decision to evacuate is especially complex when someone with Alzheimer’s is involved. Research where you would go. Expect noisy and crowded conditions at public disaster shelters, which could exacerbate challenging behaviors. If you need to go do not delay, you do not want to be in traffic for hours or even days.

5. Consider what strategy you would use to get your loved one to leave quickly and calmly. Anticipate resistance. Use tactics that have been successful in the past such as using a favorite possession or food to encourage cooperation.

6. Prepare a disaster kit with basic supplies as well as extra medications and copies of important papers. Expect that your loved one may have forgotten where items are stored.

7. Pack familiar, comforting items to keep your loved one occupied en route and while away, such as a portable DVD player, favorite books, pictures, music, games and comfortable clothes.

8. Sign up for the Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return/Medic Alert program, which can give assistance if your loved one wanders. Six out of 10 people with Alzheimer’s disease will wander at some point and this behavior is more likely under stress.

9. Plan for pets too. As difficult as it can be for anyone to be separated from pets in a crisis, for a person with Alzheimer’s this separation can be even more upsetting.

10. Revaluate your plan as your loved one’s disease progresses. His or her functional ability two months from now might be very different from what it is today.

“Being prepared for a natural disaster is important for all of us, but it is especially critical for family caregivers of those with memory disorders, who face additional challenges during a disaster,” said Cynthia Hellyar, gerontologist, The Hartford Advance 50 Team. “Changes in routine or surroundings can be very disturbing for some people with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Having a plan helps you as the caregiver function calmly, which is paramount to keeping your loved one calm.”

These tips and more are detailed in The Calm Before the Storm: Family Conversations about Disaster Planning, Caregiving, Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia. To order a free copy of the booklet – the first comprehensive natural disaster planning guide specifically created for caregivers, families and friends of those with memory disorders – visit



Source: MIT AgeLab



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