Disaster Preparation for Caregivers

Disaster Preparation for Caregivers

Since it is June, the beginning of Hurricane Season here in the South, I thought this would be an ideal time to provide everyone with valuable information on disaster preparation when you have the added difficulty of caring for a spouse with Alzheimer’s Disease. Those of you in other parts of the country can also benefit from this information – no area is immune from some type of disaster, whether it is a hurricane, tornado, earthquake, wildfire, or blizzard.

The two basic concerns when caring for an AD patient during an emergency are to find a safe haven and to keep the person as free from agitation as possible. At the end of this blog, I will list links to sites that provide numerous valuable resources.

  1. DO NOT WAIT. Obviously, no one can forecast an earthquake, but hurricane, blizzard, and wildfire warnings are issued up to 5 days in advance. Call the Alzheimer’s Association Hotline (800-272-3900) as soon as a problem is forecast. Find out what services are available in your area to help Alzheimer patients in storm emergencies. Many communities have “Special Needs Shelters”, but they are prioritized based on the most severe needs. If you do have to go to a shelter – REMEMBER TO TAKE THE MEDICATIONS – AT LEAST A WEEK’S WORTH.
  2. MAKE SURE YOUR SPOUSE IS ENROLLED IN A WANDERING PROGRAM – There are many – Safe Return and Project Lifesaver are two, but there are others. This should have been done at diagnosis, but if you have not enrolled, do so immediately. Things can get very hectic during an evacuation, and there is the possibility of your spouse wandering away.
  3. KEEP THE AD PATIENT AS CALM AS POSSIBLE – Considering many of us “well” spouses can get pretty panicked when there is no electricity, no air conditioning, and storm shutters have us buried in a coffin-like, claustrophobic atmosphere, the effect on an AD patient can be catastrophic. If a soothing voice, hand holding, and gentle stroking are not working, go for the medication. And some for your spouse too!
  4. DOOR HANDLE SIGNS FOR AFTER THE STORM – Your local Alzheimer chapter should have brightly colored door handle signs that signal relief workers who check neighborhoods after the storm, that a person with dementia is living in your house and needs special assistance.

These are just the very basic of tips. Click on these links for extensive, detailed information.

Alzheimer’s Association Disaster Preparedness - You will need to scroll down to the disaster section.

From the National Institute on Aging Website - Natural Disaster Safety

Natural disasters come in many forms and degrees of severity. They seldom give warning, and they call upon good judgment and ability to follow through with crisis plans. People with AD are at a serious disadvantage. Their impairments in memory and reasoning severely limit their ability to act appropriately in crises. It is always important to have a plan of action in case of fire, earthquake, flood, tornado, or other disasters. Specific home safety precautions may apply and environmental changes may be needed. The American Red Cross is an excellent resource for general safety information and preparedness guides for comprehensive planning. If there is a person with AD in the home, the following precautions apply:

  • Get to know your neighbors, and identify specific individuals who would be willing to help in a crisis. Formulate a plan of action with them should the person with AD be unattended during a crisis.
  • Give neighbors a list of emergency numbers of caregivers, family members, and primary medical resources.
  • Educate neighbors beforehand about the person's specific disabilities, including inability to follow complex instructions, memory loss, impaired judgment, and probable disorientation and confusion. Give examples of some of the simple one-step instructions that the person may be able to follow.
  • Have regular emergency drills so that each member of the household has a specific task. Realize that the person with AD cannot be expected to hold any responsibility in the crisis plan and that someone will need to take primary responsibility for supervising the individual.
  • Always have at least an extra week's supply of any medical or personal hygiene items critical to the person's welfare, such as:
    • food and water
    • medications
    • incontinence undergarments
    • hearing aid batteries
    • glasses
  • Be sure that the person with AD wears an identification bracelet stating "memory loss" should he or she become lost or disoriented during the crisis. Contact your local Alzheimer's Association chapter and enroll the person in the Safe Return program.
  • Under no circumstances should a person with AD be left alone following a natural disaster. Do not count on the individual to stay in one place while you go to get help. Provide plenty of reassurance


If you have any additional information or tips, please post them under the Message Board Topic: Disaster Preparation for the AD patient and spouse.