Preparing for the Storm with Dementia

By: Gary LeBlanc

The state of Florida has truly had its eyes opened on the proper need of dementia training for their special needs shelters after last year’s Hurricane Irma. I have been extremely grateful to take on the task of educating and training Florida’s Heath Department employees on dementia care and awareness, starting with Volusia County.

NOAA’s 2018 hurricane forecast predicts 10-16 named storms this season. Please be prepared.

If you should find yourself caring for loved ones living with dementia during a natural disaster, you will most likely find yourself facing two major disasters; the oncoming storm and the tempest resulting from the mass confusion of the patients. If this should happen to you, chances are you will not have time to think; you must plan ahead.

If you find yourself in such a situation, you cannot rely on other people for help as they will probably be caught up in making their own preparations.

In the event of an impending hurricane or storm, these loved ones will most likely be frightened and possibly uncooperative. Anxiety levels will be high. If the decision to evacuate has to be made, this can prove to be exceedingly difficult for those who are memory impaired, and also for their caregivers. Any change in routine—never mind a change in surroundings—will be very disturbing.

As I said, plan ahead. 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 those living with dementia can be settled into their new environment. Be sure to prepare a checklist for a substitute caregiver listing patients’ daily habits and anything that may help to soothe them.

Consider pets as well. My dad was very fond of our cat and sometimes seemed to care more for the cat than himself during his time of battling Alzheimer’s Disease. I assured him time and again that his pet’s welfare would be well looked after.

Do the best to maintain a calm demeanor. Be reassuring in your manner and have calm conversations with them 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 often throughout this ordeal. It’s essential that you don’t get yourself into a frenzy. The calmer you appear, the less unnerved they will become.

The best thing you can do is be prepared comfortably ahead of time. This isn’t going to be an easy task; you’re just going to have to wade through it.

Your local Chamber of Commerce will have all the information needed in the event it becomes necessary to seek out a public shelter. In 2015, Florida put a law into place that those diagnosed with dementia are able to seek special need shelters in your county that are designated for people with disabilities. This would be a must better choice. Do your research ahead of time and find one that will best suit your needs. Please make sure you’re pre-registered. You can find the form online by Goggling (your county + special needs shelter).

Keep in mind; people dealing with dementia do not perform well in noisy, crowded places. In fact, this may be the worst situation for them to endure. As I stated earlier, a friend or relative’s house will be a more composed environment for them.

Even the stable individuals that are 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 is going to hit the ceiling and these loved ones are going to sense this.

Sadly, you also need to plan that there’s a 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. Don’t procrastinate!

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