Emergency Preparedness Tips for Alzheimer’s Caregivers
Caring for a person with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias is difficult even in the best of times. But a disaster or emergency can increase confusion for the person with Alzheimer’s and cause greater stress for the caregiver.
Just the thought of an approaching disaster can raise anyone’s fears, which is why caregiving experts advise making advance preparations for an emergency and taking into account the needs of the person with Alzheimer’s. In this way, caregivers are not making last-minute preparations.
According to the Administration for Community Living (ACL), which supports the needs of the aging and disability populations, caregivers do not have to make decisions alone. The ACL, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, recommends caregivers involve people whom they trust, who understand the situation, and are willing to give advice. This group can also include family members of the person with Alzheimer’s.
Before making specific plans, the ACL suggests caregivers consider the area in which the person with Alzheimer’s lives and the type of disasters that occurs there, such as tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, or wildfires.
Whether to evacuate or shelter in place will depend on the type of disaster predicted and the instructions given by the local Emergency Alert System. If evacuation is necessary, however, determine the locations of evacuation centers in the community or ask in advance to stay with relatives or friends.
Prepare an Emergency Kit
Preparing an emergency kit in advance is ideal, although caregivers should realize there will be last-minute items to add. The Alzheimer’s Association recommends the emergency kit include:
- Medication supplies
- A list of medications and dosages
- Health insurance information
- Social Security cards
- Several sets of extra clothing
- Incontinence products
- An extra pair of eyeglasses, if needed
- Bottled water
- Flashlight with extra batteries
- Favorite items or food
- Physician’s name, address, phone numbers, including mobile phone
- A list of family and other important contacts
- A recent photograph of the person with Alzheimer’sAn identification bracelet for the person living with Alzheimer’s and the caregiver (in case the two become separated)
Remember to make accommodations for medical equipment, such as portable oxygen, a wheelchair or a walker.
After gathering the items and information, put the kit in a watertight container and store it in an easily accessible location. Use waterproof bags to protect medications and paperwork. If possible, store a backup of important documents in a secure electronic file.
Accessing Medical Records
Access to an older adult’s medical records could be a disaster all in itself if caregivers do not handle this task in advance. Having access to medical records is essential for non-primary care doctors should the person with Alzheimer’s need emergency medical treatment.
Obtaining medical records, however, may be tricky due to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (better known as HIPAA), a federal law that protects the privacy of health records.
If the person with Alzheimer’s is in the early stages of the disease, he or she may be able to request the records without a problem. Also, since health records are stored electronically, it may be easier to access documents if the older adult has an online patient account with his or her primary healthcare provider.
In some cases, caregivers who have medical power of attorney or are the older adult’s legal guardian can request the medical records. Or, the person’s family member may have the ability to access the records. Make copies of the medical records to pack in the emergency kit.
Medicare Regulations Change In a Disaster or Emergency Area
Medicare changes its usual rules on Original Medicare (Part A and Part B) in an area that’s been declared a disaster or an emergency. The rules change only if:
- The president has declared the area in which Medicare beneficiaries are in as an emergency or a disaster.
- A state governor has declared the area an emergency or disaster.
- The Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services has declared a public health emergency.
So, if the person with Alzheimer’s has Medicare insurance and needs medical attention, Medicare will pay for Medicare-covered services, regardless of where services are rendered in the area. For instance, a Medicare beneficiary can receive Medicare-covered services at an airport from a military provider.
Also, Medicare does not require recipients to go to their usual network pharmacy to replace their prescription drugs.
Contact Medicare Advantage Plans to determine whether the HMO, PPO, or other health plans change their regulations during a disaster or emergency.
Staying Alert And Staying Calm
Even under normal circumstances, people living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias have difficulties adapting to changes in routine, including staying in unfamiliar surroundings.
This is why it’s important to pack an item that brings comfort to the person with Alzheimer’s, such as prayer beads, or a pillow, or a photo album. To play the person’s favorite movies and music, bring along a portable DVD/music player with headphones.
The Alzheimer’s Association warns caregivers to stay alert for unexpected reactions from the person with Alzheimer’s who may become agitated or start wandering.
A disaster or emergency will also rattle the nerves of caregivers, who may also worry about their own family members. People with dementia mimic the emotions of those around them. So, if caregivers become emotional, so will people with dementia.
Because of this, the Alzheimer’s Association encourages caregivers to do their best to stay calm and establish a positive tone as much as possible, even in the worst of circumstances.
For more help, the American Red Cross has information on how to prepare for emergencies: https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies.html
Alzheimer’s Association also has information on preparing for emergencies: https://www.alz.org/help-support/caregiving/safety/in-a-disaster