If you’re age 60 or above, you’ve probably experienced more than one disaster.
Earthquakes, wildfires and mudslides are more common in our neck of the woods; hurricanes, ice storms and tornadoes occur in other parts of the country.
Wherever you or your loved ones live, a disaster can happen anytime, anywhere, and anyplace to anyone.
Older adults can be assets during a disaster, using their experience, good judgment and resilience to help others.
However, some older adults, such as those with dementia, are particularly vulnerable during a disaster.
Since one in eight people over the age of 65 have Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, there’s a high probability that if you’re involved in a disaster, you’ll likely be in the proximity of an older person with reduced cognitive functioning.
Emergency-preparedness experts have begun to recognize the special needs of older adults with dementia following a disaster. Whether your loved one lives in a residential facility, by themselves in a suburban neighborhood or with you in your home, there are things you can do to relieve their fear and anxiety and aid in their safety.
Family members with loved ones in a residential facility— nursing homes, assisted living facilities, board and cares or retirement communities—should receive a copy of and become familiar with the facility’s disaster plan.
Two important questions to ask: Where will residents be taken in the event of an evacuation and how will my family receive updates on the condition of our loved one during a disaster?
If you are a caregiver for a family member with dementia, or have a person with dementia in your neighborhood, there are special considerations to be aware of during a disaster.
Reactions of those with dementia are unpredictable. In many cases they may have a limited understanding of what is happening or what is being communicated to them.
In some instances they’ll quickly forget what they’ve been told. In unfamiliar situations they’ll have less of an ability to deal with new surroundings.
During a disaster those with dementia are at high risk for agitation. Hiding, fighting, pacing, wandering or refusal to leave their home are common reactions. In some instances the disaster situation itself overloads the mental ability of the person to act rationally.
As the disaster situation comes under control, those with dementia may still experience lingering effects like continued confusion, even after things return to normal.
And don’t make assumptions about people with early-stage dementia who just experience slight memory loss. The impact of the disaster can exacerbate their symptoms, leaving them incapable of handling the disaster alone.