Disaster Preparedness and Persons with DementiaGeneral Public Image - Elders

Dementia refers to physical changes in the brain causes loss of memory and other mental abilities, severe enough to interfere with daily living.    The best known example of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease.  Although dementia is not a common or inevitable part of aging (only 15 percent of older Americans suffer from this condition the needs of persons with dementia (and their caregivers) present important disaster-related mental health challenges. 

Here are some quick preparedness guidelines:

  • Consider registering with the Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return Program.  This is an identification and support program that provides assistance for a person with Alzheimer’s who wanders off and becomes lost, either locally or far from home, and registration may be particularly helpful in the event of a disaster.
  • If you are already registered in Safe Return, make sure personal contact information, medicines needed and doctor information are updated with the program.
  • Prepare an emergency kit in a watertight container and stored in an easily accessible location.  In addition to standard items, dementia-related preparedness needs might include:
    • Easy-on flotation devices, such as “water wings” or floating armbands
    • Easy on/off clothes (a couple of sets)
    • Velcro shoes/sneakers
    • Back-up eyeglasses
    • Incontinence products
    • Wipes
    • Lotion (good for soothing the person)
    • Pillow, toy or something else to hug
    • Favorite items or foods, liquid meals
    • Supplies of non-perishable medication
    • Extra identification items for the person, such as an ID bracelet or clothing tags
    • Copies of legal documents, such as power of attorney
    • Copies of medical documents that indicate the person’s condition and current medications
    • Copies of insurance and Social Security cards
    • Zip-lock bags to hold medications and documents
    • Physician’s name, address and phone numbers
    • Alzheimer’s Association phone number and address and Safe Return phone number
    • Recent picture of the person with dementia

Consider preparing a “What You Should Know About (name)” fact sheet for the person with dementia to bring to a shelter or other emergency disaster center. Information on the form could include:

  • What the person with dementia likes to be called
  • Cultural background
  • Names of family and friends/li>
  • Past hobbies and interests/li>
  • Sleep habits
  • What upsets them
  • What calms them down
  • Typical patterns of behavior
  • Normal daily structure and routines
  • Eating and drinking patterns and abilities

This information could assist both the person with dementia and his or her caregivers.