| Alzheimer's Association

Hurricane season is here and that means it’s time to start thinking about your disaster plans. Caregivers for those living with Alzheimer’s or other dementia have to be especially aware to ensure the health and safety of loved ones. 

“For those living with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, disruptions to their everyday routine can be disorienting and alarming,” says Jody Streussnig, a program manager in Lakeland for the Alzheimer’s Association in Florida. “Having a plan in place can be crucial to ensuring that, in the event of a hurricane, your loved one is not only safe but also feeling calm and comfortable.”

According to Disaster Preparedness for Dementia Caregivers, a guide created by the  Alzheimer’s Association and the University of South Florida, a first step to any hurricane plan is to have an emergency kit. In your emergency kit, pack items like copies of legal documents, such as power of attorney, a recent picture of the person with dementia, copies of insurance and Social Security cards, their physician’s information and the phone number for the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 Helpline (800.272.3900). 

Consider what you’ll need if you stay or go

Next, consider whether you will stay at home or evacuate. If you are going to stay at home, what do you need? If you choose to evacuate, where will you go? Know what you plan to do in both scenarios.

“Think about the needs and abilities of the person you provide care for,” advises Streussnig. “Consider planning for support from family members, friends and neighbors. If you’re in a situation where there is no one to help, talk to a care provider or the Alzheimer’s Association about options.” 

When evacuating, consider staying at a friend or family member’s house. Shelters are not always good options for people living with Alzheimer’s or other dementia. They can be crowded and noisy with little privacy for you and the person you care for. If you must use a shelter, try to visit it ahead of time and ensure it meets their needs. A special needs shelter provides more than a general shelter, but may require you to pre-register every year. Contact the Polk County emergency management office for more information. 

If you do plan to stay home, make sure you are prepared for loss of water and power. 

“Have a supply of clean towels, linens and hygiene supplies,” shares Streussnig. “Make and freeze meals with the person’s favorite dishes that can be transferred to a cooler during a power outage and use an outdoor grill for cooking. This will help create a sense of normalcy.”

In any situation, remember that for a person living with dementia, changes in routine, traveling and new environments may increase the risk for wandering and agitation. Stay alert for unexpected reactions that may result from these changes. 

To reduce the risk of wandering and increased anxiety, consider these tips: 

  • Do your best to remain calm, as this may help reduce anxiety or confusion.
  • Assess your loved one’s response to new surroundings and reassure them. You may hear something like “I want to go home.” Use simple statements like “I know you want to go home. But for now, we can stay here. We are safe here,” or “The doctor (or other trusted person) wants you to stay.” 
  • Consider reducing – but not eliminating – liquids up to two hours before bed. This way the person doesn’t have to get up during the night, which can increase their risk for wandering and confusion. 
  • Maintain your routine as much as possible. If your loved one has a snack everyday at 3 p.m. then try to do that no matter where you are. Keep familiar belongings with you like a comfortable blanket or clothing item. 

You know your loved one and what provides them comfort. Is it holding their hand or combing their hair? Does a specific song or sound soothe them? You have the tools and knowledge to ensure they make it through any situation safely. 

“Believe in yourself,” says Streussnig. “Being a caregiver during a hurricane takes planning but you don’t have to do it all at once. Do it in steps over time and ask for help if you need it. Most importantly, find time to breathe and relax. Take care of yourself so you can help your loved one!”

For more information on disaster planning for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or other dementia, as well as local programs and services, visit or call the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 Helpline at 800.272.3900. 

Join hundreds of other caregivers and those facing Alzheimer’s and other dementia at Walk to End Alzheimer’s Polk County presented by Lakeland Regional Health and Publix Super Market Charities. The event kicks off on Saturday, December 9 at 8 a.m. at Bonnett Springs Park. A promise garden ceremony will be held at 9 a.m. with the Walk to immediately follow. Register your team at

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