Disaster preparation and response

Extreme weather events are becoming more common in Canada. And beyond that, it's always good to be prepared for a potential power outage or incident. Here are some ideas to help you prepare in advance for disasters so that if a person with dementia is part of your life, you can quickly respond.

A lantern, candles, small radio, water bottle, first aid kit and other emergency prep items

It's best to be prepared for potential emergencies. Here are some disaster-prep tips that are particularly relevant for family members or caregivers for a person who living with dementia.

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 them.
  • Whether you live with the person with dementia, or you are a long-distance caregiver, make sure evacuation plans include their specific needs. Check your local Alzheimer Society and other organizations that provide similar services, 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 with dementia, 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.

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, friends, 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.

Where to get more help or information

In disaster situations, always look to and obey your local city or region's disaster response and evacuation directives.

More information about general disaster preparation is also available through the Government of Canada.

For support with dementia in the short and long term, connect with your local Alzheimer Society. Active in communities right across Canada, the Alzheimer Society provides information, support and education to people living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, their families and caregivers. Visit alzheimer.ca/find to get the details for connecting with your local Alzheimer Society team. Or call 1-855-705-4636 for our national information and referral line.