Out of respect for people who are suffering from any form of dementia and their loved ones, I have refrained from using “firedog-isms” in this post.
In 1983, President Ronald Reagan designated November as Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. Ironically, he later developed the condition, although people debate whether he succumbed after finishing his two presidential terms or while he was still in office. Whenever his disease surfaced, our late president was one of 44 million worldwide and 5.5 million Americans to suffer from some form of dementia.
Typically, Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) strikes after people turn 65 and is expected to peak soon since so many Baby Boomers are starting to enter their golden years. The condition is relevant to the emergency management community because people who struggle with memory-related issues often require special assistance in natural or manmade disasters.
Named after the German psychiatrist who first described it, AD is the most common cause of dementia. It is an irreversible, progressive neurological disorder. Dementia can vary in severity, characterized by a loss of cognitive function and changes in behavior. It is common for more than one form of dementia to manifest in a single patient. There is no cure for AD andthe disease is usually fatal. However, treatment options exist that can help manage symptoms and extend life expectancy. Ongoing research focuses on the cause and potential treatments which control the progression of the symptoms and improve quality of life for the sufferer as well as loved ones.
Alzheimer’s Signs & Symptoms (Adapted from The Alzheimer’s Association)
- Memory loss which disrupts everyday life.
- Challenges in planning or problem solving.
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks.
- Confusion with time or place.
- Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships.
- New problems with words in speaking or writing.
- Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps.
- Decreased or poor judgment.
- Withdrawal from work or social activities.
- Changes in mood and personality.
While most people diagnosed with the condition are age 65 or above, a condition known as early onset AD attacks people who are in their 40s or 50’s. Experts do not know what triggers the disease, butut doctors and researchers are working hard to uncover the cause and come up with a cure. In the meantime, the best thing to do is to manage symptoms to minimize the impact of the disease.
Disaster Preparation and Recovery for People Who Struggle with Dementia
Emergency situations, such as tornados, hurricanes, heat waves, fires and blizzards, significantly impact everyone’s safety. But they can be especially upsetting and confusing for someone who struggles with dementia. Whatever form of dementia your loved one or assigned client has, strategies can help them navigate the situation when the unexpected becomes reality. Some strategies mirror those recommended for anyone and everyone in an emergency. These include being prepared and preparing an emergency kit.
Specific Safety Considerations for Someone with Alzheimer’s
- If the person with dementia lives in a residential building or attends adult day care, make sure the facility staff understand disaster and evacuation plans. Find out who is in charge of evacuating the building in the event of an emergency.
- Make sure the evacuation plan takes special needs into consideration. For example; if a walker or wheelchair is used, how will it be accommodated?
- If oxygen is required, be sure there is easy access to portable tanks.
- Identify anyone who will help your loved one. Will friends or relatives allow your loved one to stay with them if they need to evacuate? If the person receives routine health procedures at a clinic or with home health, track down the back-up service providers. Make sure contact information is easily accessible.
- Learn how to get prescription medications and care. Purchase extra medication and keep supplies well stocked. Medicare’s Getting Care and Drugs in a Disaster Area. It explains how Medicare beneficiaries have special rights to get out-of-network care if they live in an area where the President has declared a disaster.
- Consider enrolling the person in a wandering response service. MedicAlert® with 24/7 Wandering Support assists in the return of patients who get separated from their caregivers.
- Gather medical records and make them readily accessible. Provide copies of the person’s medical history, a list of medications, physician information and family contacts to people other than a partner or spouse.
About the Allied Universal Fire Life Safety Training System
Whether or not your memory is impaired, the AUS Fire Life Safety Training System cares about your safety. Our system provides first responders with building-specific safety information. This prepares emergency workers before they even arrive on scene. Also, one of our training modules offers instructions for providing physically impaired assistance. A convenient and affordable way to make sure high-rise occupants are prepared for disasters and emergencies of virtually every kind is to subscribe. For more information about the best system out there, or to subscribe, click here.