Natural disasters come in many forms and degrees of severity. They seldom give warning, and they call upon good judgment and the ability to follow through with crisis plans. People with Alzheimer's disease are at a serious disadvantage. Their impairments in memory and reasoning severely limit their ability to act appropriately in crises.
It is always important to have a plan of action in case of fire, earthquake, flood, tornado, or other disasters. Specific home safety precautions may apply and environmental changes may be needed. The American Red Cross is an excellent resource for general safety information and preparedness guides for comprehensive planning. If there is a person with Alzheimer's in the home, the following precautions apply:
- Get to know your neighbors, and identify specific individuals who would be willing to help in a crisis. Formulate a plan of action with them should the person with Alzheimer's be unattended during a crisis.
- Give neighbors a list of emergency phone numbers of caregivers, family members, and primary medical resources.
- Educate neighbors beforehand about the person's specific disabilities, including inability to follow complex instructions, memory loss, impaired judgment, and probable disorientation and confusion. Give examples of some of the simple one-step instructions that the person may be able to follow.
- Have regular emergency drills so that each member of the household has a specific task. Realize that the person with Alzheimer's disease cannot be expected to hold any responsibility in the crisis plan and that someone will need to take primary responsibility for supervising the individual.
Always have at least an extra week's supply of any medical or personal hygiene items critical to the person's welfare, such as:
- food and water
- incontinence undergarments
- hearing aid batteries
- Keep an extra pair of the person's eyeglasses on hand.
- Be sure that the person with Alzheimer's wears an identification bracelet stating "memory loss" should he or she become lost or disoriented during the crisis. Contact your local Alzheimer's Association chapter and enroll the person in the Safe Return program.
- Under no circumstances should a person with Alzheimer's be left alone following a natural disaster. Do not count on the individual to stay in one place while you go to get help. Provide plenty of reassurance.
For more information about preparing for disasters, see our Disaster Preparedness  tip sheet.