Difficult as it is for a family to prepare for a natural disaster, caring for an older family member who may have Alzheimer’s disease or dementia poses extra challenges that few know how to properly plan for. Half of the victims of Hurricane Katrina were 75 or older, according to a study in Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness, which concluded that disaster preparedness efforts should be more focused on the care of “vulnerable populations”. Despite the impact of Hurricane Katrina, in the aftermath, the population returning to New Orleans is a wealthier, older set. The median age of residents has increased from 34.0 to 38.8, according to a Nielson study. The population may continue to age in New Orleans, meaning a greater concentration of older adults who will need assistance if natural disasters occur.
For a family to properly address the needs of their older members, experts strongly suggest they anticipate disasters by preparing supplies, evacuation options and solutions to the issues that may arise after the storm. To assist families in this daunting task, the MIT AgeLab and The Hartford Advance 50 Team have published “The Calm Before the Storm: Family Conversations about Disaster Planning, Caregiving, Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia”. Based on research performed in 2008 by the MIT AgeLab and The Hartford Advance 50 Team, the free, 44-page brochure is an invaluable resource for families that are underprepared to assist an older family member with Alzeimer’s or dementia in the event of a disaster.
Included throughout the guide are anecdotes, concerns and observations made by focus group participants living with family members with Alzheimer’s or dementia. The guide advises readers on preparing for disasters, reacting when disaster strikes and anticipating the return home post-disaster. Tailored to the specific needs of individuals with Alzeimers or dementia, it includes recommendations on a wide range of considerations, from working with their insurance providers to moving them to safety when disaster strikes and they cannot be immediately reached by a family member. Even the evacuation of pets is included, as the brochure claims, “Pets can provide reassurance and be a calming influence” during a time of crisis. The guide is followed by checklists, important contact numbers and various resources for further assistance.
You can find this and other publications by the AgeLab and Hartford Advance 50 Team here.