Disaster and emergency preparation

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Emergencies happen when we least expect them, so it’s best to be prepared. Here are some ideas to help you prepare so that if someone with dementia is involved in an emergency, you can quickly respond.

Disaster and emergency preparation

How to prepare for a disaster

Advance preparations

  • If the person with dementia lives in a residential facility, find out about its disaster and evacuation plans. Ask if you will be responsible for evacuating her.
  • Whether you live with the person with dementia, or you are a long-distance caregiver, make sure evacuation plans include his specific needs. Check your local Alzheimer Society and other organizations that provide services to elderly people, to see if help is available.
  • Prepare an emergency kit (see below for suggestions).

Emergency kit

Consider preparing an emergency kit. Keep it in a watertight container and store it in an easily accessible location. Your emergency kit might include:

  • Easy on/off clothes (a few sets)
  • Supplies of medication (or minimally, a list of medications with dosages)
  • Velcro shoes/sneakers
  • An extra pair of glasses
  • Incontinence products
  • Extra identification items for the person, such as an ID bracelet and clothing tags
  • Copies of legal documents, such as a power of attorney
  • Copies of medical documents that indicate the individual’s condition and current medications
  • Copies of insurance and social insurance cards
  • Waterproof bags to hold medications and documents
  • Physician’s name, address and phone numbers (including cell phone)
  • Recent picture of the person with dementia
  • Hand lotion or other items to promote comfort
  • Bottled water
  • Favourite items or foods; liquid meals
  • Pillow, toy or doll to hold for comfort
  • Phone number for your local Alzheimer Society

If you know a pending disaster is about to occur

  • Get yourself and the person with dementia to a safe place.
  • If the need to evacuate is likely, do not delay. Try to leave as early as possible to minimize long delays in heavy traffic.
  • Alert others (family, friends, medical personnel) that you are changing locations, and give them your contact information. Contact them regularly as you move.
  • Be sure there are people other than the primary caregiver who have copies of the person’s medical history, medications, physician information and family contacts.
  • Purchase extra medications.
  • If the person with dementia uses oxygen, be sure to obtain portable tanks.

Get more information on disaster preparedness from Public Safety Canada.

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 or friend has dementia and may not understand what is happening.
  • Do not leave the person with dementia 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, getting lost 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 the person with dementia. Hold hands or put your arm on their shoulder. Tell them that things are going to be fine.
  • Find outlets for anxious energy. Take a walk together or engage them in simple tasks.
  • Redirect their attention if they becomes upset.
  • Move them to a safer or quieter place, if possible. Limit stimulation.
  • Make sure they take 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 they may be overwhelmed (fidgeting, pacing).
  • Remind them that they are in the right place.

Helpful hints during an episode of agitation

  • Approach them from the front and use their name.
  • Use calm, positive statements and a patient, low-pitched voice. Reassure them.
  • Respond to the emotions they are 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 or try to correct them. Instead, affirm their experience, reassure them and try to divert their 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.

Be ready for an emergency department visit

Whether it is a planned admission or an unexpected emergency visit, the unfamiliar noises and activities of a hospital can be especially upsetting for a person living with dementia.

Preparation can improve a visit. Be Ready for an Emergency Department Visit is a series of handy checklists and forms for a person living with dementia to fill out with a family member, friend, or caregiver. Complete these forms before a trip to the hospital is necessary, so that the person living with dementia is ready to go. The information provided on these forms will help you communicate the person’s needs, making it possible for hospital staff to provide more personalized care.

Download the checklist to get started

Use the checklist as a guide to work through each of the tools in this series: