For the past six years I have written articles about the challenges of caring for someone with dementia during hurricane season. To all caregivers I recommend being prepared at all times of the year, in case evacuation becomes necessary.
As significant as these articles were, I worry about being repetitious. But this year I have great news for all Florida residents. A bill passed this year by the Senate and House, and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott, requires the Division of Emergency Management to develop a special needs shelter registration program for those with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers. This law takes effect Jan. 1 and will be implemented fully by March 1.
The lack of concern for these special facilities has troubled me in recent years. I found it shocking how few counties in Florida had Alzheimer’s or dementia listed as a disability on emergency shelter forms.
There’s no question that here in Florida we understand the serious amount of damage these storms can generate. It’s amazing how a simple summer thunderstorm can develop into something tropical and turn our world upside down.
So, caregivers everywhere, let’s talk about the importance of developing and putting an evacuation plan in place. You do not want to end up in a regular emergency shelter. Your loved one would feed off of the heightened anxiety in that building, causing his or her confusion level and behavior to rise to the hilt.
Here’s my suggestion: If possible, stay away from all shelters completely. If you have family or friends who live outside of the path of the storm, consider staying with them. (Have this plan in place far in advance, of course.) If you do not have this option, see if your county has dementia on its list for shelters that accommodate disabled people. As I noted earlier, if the new law is implemented as planned, this all will be in place by next year’s tropical storm season.
My biggest concern today is whether staffers in these shelters will be properly trained on dementia care. Maybe training them will be another important undertaking for those of us who are knowledgeable in the field.
Caregivers, make sure you have your evacuation kits ready to go. Also, a list of contacts for both you and your loved one to keep in your possession — just in case you get separated. And don’t forget about your pets! Reassure your loved one that his or her pet is going to be OK. Otherwise you might never get them out of the house!
Having to evacuate your home is stressful enough; having to do so while caring for someone with dementia is a task I don’t wish on anyone.
There is a free guide from the National Institute on Aging called “Disaster Preparedness — Alzheimer’s Caregiving Tips” that you can download through the website: http://www.nia.nih.gov/
Unfortunately it’s not just the storm, but also its aftermath, for which we need to prepare. After a particular hurricane my dad and I had no electricity for 13 days — which meant no water, because we had a well that ran on electricity. Those were the longest 13 days of my life!
Think ahead and plan for the worst. And thank you to our Florida leaders who realized that dementia is, without a doubt, a disability.
For a decade Gary Joseph LeBlanc was the primary caregiver of his father, after his father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His newly released book “Managing Alzheimer’s and Dementia Behaviors,” and his other books “While I Still Can” and an expanded edition of “Staying Afloat in a Sea of Forgetfullness,” can be found at www.commonsensecaregiving.com.