How to respond during a disaster

During an evacuation

People 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, travelling or new environments.

  • When appropriate, inform others (hotel or shelter staff, family members, airline attendants) that your family member has dementia and may not understand what is happening. 
  •  Do not leave her alone. It only takes a few minutes to wander away and get lost. 
  •  Be alert for changes in routine, travelling and new environments, which can cause agitation, wandering and an increase in symptoms such as 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 him. Hold hands or put your arm on his shoulder. Tell him that things are going to be fine.

  • Find outlets for anxious energy. Take a walk together or engage him in simple tasks. 
  • Redirect her attention if she becomes upset. 
  • Move him to a safer or quieter place, if possible. Limit stimulation. 
  • Make sure she takes medications as scheduled. 
  • Try to schedule regular meals and maintain a regular sleep schedule. 
  • Avoid elaborate or detailed explanations. Provide information using concrete terms. Follow brief explanations with reassurance. 
  • Be prepared to provide more help with all routine activities. 
  • Pay attention to cues that she may be overwhelmed (fidgeting, pacing).
  • Remind him that he is in the right place.

Helpful hints during an episode of agitation

  •  Approach her from the front and use her name. 
  •  Use calm, positive statements and a patient, low-pitched voice. Reassure. 
  • Respond to the emotions he is expressing rather than the content of the words. For example, say, “You’re frightened and want to go home. It’s okay. I’m right here with you.” 
  •  Don’t argue with her or try to correct. Instead, affirm her experience, reassure her and try to divert her 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


  • 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.

Last Updated: 06/25/2020