It's An Emergency: Preparing for Evacuation with a Loved One with Dementia

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Since the summer began, newspapers, television, radio news shows, and web sites have herald the multiple ways that Mother Nature is displaying her wrath. Wildfires in the western United States. An earthquake in Japan. A hurricane bearing down on Hawaii and a tropical storm focused on the Caribbean islands. Tornadoes in New York and in the U.S. heartland. Torrential rains in England and in my home state, Texas.


    These events have made me ponder a very serious question: How do caregivers handle a sudden evacuation that displaces not only themselves, but also their loved one who has Alzheimer's? I can still remember two years ago when Hurricane Katrina evacuees from Louisiana unexpectedly filled nursing homes in my area (and a few weeks later, we were faced with Hurricane Rita and the traffic jams, depleted gas stations, barren grocery shelves, and full hotel rooms and Red Cross shelters as many citizens in the Houston area decided to evacuate).

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    With these visions in my head, I thought that addressing the issues related to evacuation in a crisis (whether due to weather or an accident - like a fire) might be helpful to caregivers who read this web site. I'm going to take the next two shareposts to share some of my research - and ask you to share what you've done (or what you feel would be effective).


    This sharepost will focus on pre-evacuation preparation. The next sharepost will focus on what you can do once you evacuate. Again, I hope that those who have ideas (or, unfortunately, more experience than I do) can help add to this conversation so we can all prepare and be safe if that time ever comes.


    A commercial has been playing recently in my area (I'm assuming because we are relatively near the Gulf Coast and its hurricane season) touting a new website by the U.S. Department for Homeland Security. The website,, provides really good information related to three strategies: (1) Get a kit; (2) Make a plan; and (3) Be informed. The website also gives specific sections for senior citizens and people with disabilities; however, the website doesn't address how caregivers need to prepare to help people with dementia evacuate safely and then become settled in their new environment.


    To fill in the gaps, I went to Plan B - the AFA Social Services Team that provides such a wonderful support to this website. I e-mailed Daniel Kaplan, who heads the team of clinicians who offer information and advice on the SharePost forum. Daniel's immediate response was, "I would suggest not making a list, but actually assembling the kit ahead of time, designing a plan of action, sharing the plan with the whole care team and family, and practicing the drill on occasion to lessen the stress that would be so easily transferred to the person with dementia in the event of a real emergency."


    Daniel shared these specific suggestions related to the kit:

    • Assemble an easily transportable reference booklet, like the Care Planner that AFA gives away to hotline callers who request one.(You can get one by calling 866-AFA-8484). This resource allows families to fill out the fields to record medical history and medication info, schedules/routines, family and healthcare contacts, legal status of decision makers, etc. These little booklets can be put in a freezer bag and kept handy to grab on the way out of town or even on the way to the hospital in the event of medical emergency.
    • Some kit of activities also is great. You may want to include some family photos, games, non-perishable snacks and beverages, a change of clothes, any essential personal care item (especially those body-size moist hygiene wipes for waterless bathing), and anything else that will be helpful and can fit in a backpack or little suitcase for easy travel.
    • Lastly, for those who may evacuate by car, keep a box of supplies in the trunk or back seat with blankets, inflatable pillow, jug of water, flashlight, radio, batteries, non-perishable foods and a bottle or two of that emergency gasoline substitute that you can use to get to safety if you run out of gas.A simple carton of these items can be so incredibly helpful if the highways are jammed and you end up driving through the night.

    Daniel also suggested talking to family and friends prior to any evacuation about the possibility of using their home for a long-term evacuation. Interested caregivers also may want to read the Fall 2005 issue of Care Advantage: This publication has many great ideas, such as creating multiple forms of identification (such as an ID bracelet, wallet cards, and notes in the loved one's pockets) in case of disorientation and potential wandering in a new location.


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    And my suggestions, based on my limited experience of moving my mother (albeit not for long-distances and not in an emergency situation):

    • Make sure that all of your loved one's medications are in one place so you can access them quickly and easily in case of an emergency.
    • Keep an updated list of all of your loved one's prescriptions and doctors with you at all times. (Don't rely on your memory; increased stress in times of evacuation will cause you to forget much of this information.)
    • Take copies of all legal records related to power of attorney for health care, directive to the physician/living will, etc. I hope you won't need them, but I feel it's better to have these handy, just in case.
    • Plan on taking some sort of possession that serves as a comfort for your loved one. For some, it's a doll. For my mother, it's a bright, colorful quilt that makes her feel like she's home.
    • Also pack several current photos of your loved one who has dementia. You may need this to show to hotel staff (or to police) in case your loved one becomes disoriented and wanders away from where you are staying

    I truly hope that you and your loved one who has dementia don't have to be displaced. But if a crisis does happen, it's better to have done the preparation work ahead of time so that some of the stress will be eliminated. By being prepared, you will be better able to focus on everybody's well-being and will be able to sanely get your family as well as your loved one who has dementia to a place of safety.


    My next sharepost will discuss what to do if you do have to evacuate. Until then, start putting together your emergency kit!



Published On: August 14, 2007