Alzheimer’s & Public Health EmergenciesPosted on by
November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month and National Family Caregivers Month
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia and is a progressive disease that begins with mild memory loss and possibly the loss of the ability to carry a conversation and respond to the environment. It involves parts of the brain that control thought, memory, reasoning, and language.(1)
People living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias can face unique challenges during emergencies. These challenges can put them at increased risk for injury and wandering. Planning ahead is important.(2)
Emergencies can leave caregivers and those they care for without access to important supplies. Caregivers can take steps and precautions to prepare for an emergency by gathering supplies. Consider the needs of the person with Alzheimer’s and store supplies in a watertight container(3). Some items to consider include:
- Incontinence undergarments, wipes, and lotions
- Pillow, toy, or something the person can hold on to
- Favorite snacks and high-nutrient drinks
- Important contact info for doctors
- Copies of important paperwork
- Recent photos of the person you are caring for
Having an emergency kit with essential supplies can help caregivers be ready in an emergency. Make sure that those helping you take care of the person with Alzheimer’s know where to find the emergency supplies and how to respond to an emergency.
Build a Support Network
Currently, many people living with Alzheimer’s disease are cared for at home by family members.(1) Caregiving takes a network of family, friends, and doctors who are willing to help in case of emergencies. To build your support network you can do the following(3,4):
- Identify specific neighbors or nearby family and friends who would be willing to help in a crisis.
- Make a plan of action with them should the person with Alzheimer’s be unattended during a crisis.
- Tell neighbors about the person’s specific disabilities, including the inability to follow complex instructions, memory loss, impaired judgment, disorientation, and confusion.
- Give examples of simple one-step instructions that the person may be able to follow
- Choose a contact person who will check on you during a disaster and decide how you will communicate with each other (for instance, by telephone or knocking on doors).
- Create a list of contact information for family members and friends. Leave a copy by your phone(s) and include one with your emergency supplies.
Support networks can help caregivers have a plan in case they are not able to assist the person in their care. Having these relationships among family, friends, and doctors can ease the burden of worry in case of an emergency.
Prepare for Wandering
Alzheimer’s disease can make it hard for a person to recognize familiar places and faces and can lead to wandering or becoming lost or confused about where they are.(5)
Emergencies can lead to a change in routine when a person must evacuate to a safer place. Trying to keep their routines and reassuring them they are safe can help during an emergency and keep them from wandering.(6)
It is important to stay with a person with Alzheimer’s during an emergency, but separation can still happen. Here are some tips to help you prevent wandering during an emergency or evacuation:(7)
- Make sure the person with Alzheimer’s wears an ID bracelet or is enrolled in the MedicAlert Wandering Support Program.
- Do not leave the person alone. Even those who aren’t prone to wandering away may do so in unfamiliar environments or situations.
- If evacuating, help manage the change in environment by bringing a pillow and blanket or other comforting items they can hold onto.
- When at a shelter, try to stay away from exits and choose a quiet corner.
- When appropriate, share the diagnosis with others, such as hotel or shelter staff, family members, and airline attendants, so they can better assist.
- Try to stay together or with a group; it only takes a moment to get lost. Do not leave the person living with dementia alone.
- Do your best to remain calm, as this may help reduce anxiety or confusion.
Have your network of friends, family members, and doctors know the plan in case of an emergency and you are unreachable. These tips can help you prepare yourself and the person in your care for disasters and changes in routine.
- Emergency Prep for Alzheimer’s Caregivers
- Red Cross Older Adults Emergency Prep
Thanks in advance for your questions and comments on this Public Health Matters post. Please note that CDC does not give personal medical advice. If you are concerned you have a disease or condition, talk to your doctor.
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