FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | October 25, 2005
Alzheimer's Foundation of America Offers Post-Hurricane Coping Techniques
For the increasing number of families in Florida coping with loved ones with Alzheimer's disease, Hurricane Wilma and similar tragedies can turn worlds already turned upside down by dementia into even more chaos.
“This is another example where being educated, being prepared can provide some comfort to families amidst the turmoil. Knowing how to care for loved ones in this type of crisis will make it less overwhelming,” said Eric J. Hall, chief executive officer of the Alzheimer's Foundation of America (AFA).
Rosemary Hudgins, executive director, Alzheimer's Services of the South-Mississippi Division, Gulfport, MS, lived through this scenario when Hurricane Katrina hit last August. Hudgins and her mother, who has Alzheimer's disease, had safely evacuated to family in Alabama in advance of the hurricane. About a week later, although Hudgins was happy to return to find her still-standing home in Gulfport, she confronted many new challenges.
“We were faced with not only adjusting to the loss of so many things we took for granted, like jumping in the car to go to Mom's favorite restaurant (it's no longer there), but we also had to figure out how to answer her questions in ways that would not cause further distress,” Hudgins said.
In Florida, the concern stems from statistics showing an estimated 500,000 residents have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. The disease affects an estimated one in ten aged 65 and older and nearly one in two aged 85 and older.
Hall urged families coping with the devastation of Hurricane Wilma to seek assistance from local Alzheimer's organizations and to call AFA's national toll-free hotline, especially if they cannot reach a local agency at this time. AFA's toll-free number is 866-AFA-8484 (866-232-8484); it is staffed by certified social workers who can provide counseling on psychological and practical issues.
“During a tragedy like Hurricane Wilma and at any time, caregivers should reach out for help. Counseling and support can make a huge difference,” Hall said.
According to AFA, here are some ways that caregivers, whether they are still at home, displaced or caring for a person with dementia for the first time, can cope with daily living after a crisis:
- Monitor and meet basic needs—enough water or other fluids, sufficient food and sleep, good hygiene, and comfortable air temperature. Why? You want to avoid the stresses of dehydration, malnutrition, heat, exhaustion, and emotional distress that can produce further weakness, other illnesses and behavioral changes.
- Address medical issues: Make sure medications are taken. Treat ongoing problems, such as wound care. Watch for signs of pain or discomfort that might indicate a new injury or condition that your loved one cannot verbalize. Why? Again, you want to avoid further medical or behavior complications.
- Report your loved one's health status, current location and any concerns to his or her regular healthcare provider. If that provider is not available or in a different location, find a nearby healthcare professional and pharmacy to take care of immediate medical needs. Why? Communicating effectively with healthcare professionals leads to better care, less stress and the carrying out of treatment plans.
- Keep calm. Why? Individuals with dementia take cues from your behavior.
- Provide ongoing comfort and reassurance—a gentle touch, smiles and hugs. Try to avoid tragedy-related media broadcasts and discussions. If necessary, acknowledge that the disaster occurred and validate feelings. Why? The crisis, a new situation—surroundings, caregivers, etc.—and an inability to understand what is happening may cause more confusion and anxiety. Ongoing assurance can reduce fears.
- Stay with or have another knowledgeable caregiver be with your loved one at all times. Why? Given the higher risk of increased confusion and irritability, a familiar face and care by someone educated in dementia is desirable now more than ever.
- Try to stick to a structured routine and normal habits related to dressing, eating, bathing and toileting. Why? Repetition of daily activities helps an individual maintain their abilities and have more success in carrying out self-care. It provides a sense of calm and security. Being realistic about capabilities also will reduce frustration on both your parts.
- Involve your loved one in positive-oriented, long-lasting activities. Simple ones can work best: Try clipping coupons, folding towels, singing, baking cookies or talking about a pet. Look for community resources, such as an adult day program. Why? Such interaction will be enjoyable for your loved one—and you, and can help reduce agitation.
- Arm your loved one with multiple forms of identification—notes in pockets, wallet cards, ID bracelets—and safe-proof the environment. Why? Wandering behavior can worsen when someone is in new surroundings.
- Speak slowly, softly and clearly; use direct eye contact; give one-step instructions; and try not to argue. Why? Again, since there might be more confusion and anxiety than usual, these communication techniques can provide reassurance and help the person focus.
- Remember your own essential needs and, if at all possible, try to squeeze in some time for yourself. Why? As you concentrate more than ever on the needs on your loved one, you run a higher risk of caregiver burnout. This is a time when your loved one requires extra support, and it is difficult for an exhausted caregiver to provide this.
- Share feelings and concerns with professionals, family or friends, and ask for help. Why? This will assist with your own well-being and empower you to provide the care and patience your loved one needs during this difficult time.
In addition, AFA suggests that families should always be prepared in advance. At the top of the priority list, individuals with dementia should wear an identification bracelet and be outfitted with a tracking system, such as that offered by Project Lifesaver International.
An “emergency kit” should include bottled water; non-perishable foods; medications; incontinence products and other necessary supplies in waterproof containers; copies of the person's medical history, legal documents and insurance cards in a plastic bag and elsewhere in a safe place (for example, with a relative); a list of medications and contact numbers; and items of comfort, such as family photos.
AFA is a New York-based national nonprofit organization that focuses on care for individuals with Alzheimer's disease and related illnesses, and their families. It unites hundreds of member organizations across North America, including dozens in Florida, which provide hands-on support services. At a national level, AFA's services include a toll-free hotline, educational materials, a free magazine for caregivers, and training for healthcare professionals. For more information, call (toll-free) 866-AFA-8484 or visit www.alzfdn.org
Contact: Carol Steinberg