Picture yourself suddenly having to prepare your home for an upcoming hurricane, boarding up your windows, storing all your deck furniture, and constantly listening to the news for the projection of the storm’s path, while the whole time trying to care for your loved one with dementia. I promise you; that those bouts of anxiety will start circling you as fast as the storm’s outer bands.
This emotional whirlwind you are now experiencing will rub off on your loved one living with dementia. This is not a good situation brewing here.
The 2022 hurricane season is already here. NOAA is predicting 14-22 named storms, including 6-10 hurricanes.
I have been fortunate to take on the task of educating and training Florida’s Heath Department employees for the past two years on dementia care and awareness that work the Special Needs Shelters in many counties around the state. This program was shut down during the Covid pandemic. However, I’m happy to say, some counties have resumed this vital education.
If you are a caregiver for loved ones living with dementia during a natural disaster, whether it’s a storm, fire, flood, or tornado; you will most likely find yourself facing two challenging situations: the oncoming catastrophe and the tempest inside your patient’s mind resulting from the mass confusion. If this should happen to you, you may not have time to think, so plan ahead.
If you find yourself in such a situation, understand, that you cannot always rely on other people for help, as they will most likely be caught up in making their own preparations.
In the event of an impending hurricane or tropical storm, these loved ones will most likely be frightened and possibly uncooperative. If the decision to evacuate has to be made, this can prove to be exceedingly difficult for those who are memory impaired. Any change in routine—never mind a change in surroundings—will be very disturbing.
Research where it is you may need to go. If you have a nearby friend or relative who is willing to open their home to you, try to get there early enough so that the dementia patient can be settled into their new environment gradually. Prepare a checklist for a substitute caregiver listing patients’ daily habits and anything that may help to soothe them.
Always use redirection as a tool to keep them calm. Here are some items I highly recommend packing as you plan for an evacuation.
- Seven days of prescription in the original pill bottles and a printed list of all meds.
- Cash. Keep in mind that ATMs may not have power.
- Sanitation and hygiene products. Wipes and toilet paper.
- MP3 player with headphones, downloaded with their favorite song list.
- Power bank charger for your cell phone and other devices.
- Hearing aid batteries, extra glasses, and eye contact solution.
- Photo album for reminiscing. This takes their mind back to a comfortable and familiar time in life.
- Crafts, knitting, or anything they love. Playing cards is always good. This is something to keep their hands busy.
- Favorite snacks, redirection through taste is always a great tool.
- Familiar items, maybe their own blanket.
- Essential documents, passports, bank account records, and contact list.
- Sleeping bag and bedroll for the caregiver.
(Please keep in mind you will be limited on how much stuff you can bring into a shelter. Make it count.)
Consider pets as well. This may become a severe problem. Not all shelters will accept pets. Do your research and find out the exact procedures in your county. Special need shelters may allow a service pet. However, this may not include an emotional support pet.
Keep at least five days of food in an airtight container. If your pet is on medication, make sure you have at least a week’s worth. People get themselves in serious trouble by refusing to leave their homes because of their beloved pets; They are family!
Do your best to maintain a calm demeanor. Be reassuring and have casual conversations with your loved ones as often as possible. Frequently remind them that you’re there to assist with their needs, whatever they may be. Be patient, for it will probably be necessary to repeat yourself more often than usual throughout this ordeal. It would help if you didn’t get yourself into a frenzy. The calmer you appear, the less unnerved they will become. I know this isn’t easy.
Speaking of preparing ahead of time, your local Chamber of Commerce and County Health Department will have all the information needed if it becomes necessary to seek out a special needs shelter.
Please make sure you’re “pre-registered.” You can find the form online by Googling (your county + special needs shelters).
Keep in mind that people dealing with dementia do not perform well in noisy, crowded places. This may be the worst situation for them to endure. Therefore I am a big fan of music therapy. A device with headphones is ideal for this environment. As I stated earlier, a friend or relative’s house will be a more composed setting.
Even stable individuals waiting out the storm in a public shelter are going to be nervous wrecks, worrying if their houses will still be standing when they return home. The anxiety in that building will hit the ceiling, and the afflicted loved ones will sense this.
Sadly, it would be best if you also had a plan in place as there’s always a strong chance you may not be able to go home for a while due to destruction or loss of power.
Today is the perfect day to start your storm preparedness and evacuation plan. Do not procrastinate!
Gary Joseph LeBlanc, CDCS
Dementia Spotlight Foundation