Hurricane Harvey: Dementia Q&A for Individuals and Caregivers

We at the Alzheimer’s Association Houston and Southeast Texas Chapter stand with our community during this time of unprecedented flooding.

During times of chaos and emotional trauma, people with cognitive issues and/or memory loss are especially vulnerable and may become more confused and agitated.  They may not understand what is happening or they may forget why their surroundings have changed. Older individuals who have been displaced may exhibit confusion and agitation for the first time.  Caregivers may also be feeling the effects of stress during this time.

For support assisting someone with cognitive and memory issues or for caregiver support, we are just a phone call away.  Call 800.272.3900 for 24/7 support in over 200 languages.
Below is a list of Frequently Asked Questions:
(We will continue to update as questions come in and we get further details and answers.)

1. My family member who is living with Alzheimer’s had to be relocated during the storm.  Can you please provide me with strategies to help us reduce their anxiety and agitation?
  • Listen to the frustration.
    Find out what may be causing the agitation, and try to understand.  Sometimes the words may not make sense, but if the problem is something you can solve, then try to address it. Pay attention to cues such as fidgeting and pacing, which may indicate that the person is overwhelmed
  • Provide reassurance.
    Use calming phrases such as: “You’re safe here;” “I’m sorry that you are upset;” and “I will stay until you feel better.” Let the person know you are there.  Even though you cannot change the situation, you can reassure the person that they are not alone.
  • Find outlets for the person’s energy.
    The person may be looking for something to do.  Pay attention to signs that might mean they need to go to the bathroom, get some exercise, are hungry/thirsty or need a calming hug.
  • Check yourself.
    Use a patient, low-pitched voice. Respond to the emotions expressed rather than the words. For example,“You’re frightened and want to go home. It’s OK, I’m here with you
  • Do not raise your voice, show alarm or offense, or corner, crowd, restrain, criticize, ignore or argue with the person. Take care not to make sudden movements out of the person’s view.  Always approach the person from the front.
  • Find the smile maker.  This is a stressful time, but try to connect to the thing that the person loves.  Is it sports?  Babies?  Old stories?  Connect the person to the conversation topic that makes them feel safe and heard.
  • Remember to breathe.  The persons with dementia can feel your own stress.  Try to take some big breaths to help calm yourself down so that you can respond to the person in a more helpful way. Approach the person from the front and use his or her name.

2. My brother has Alzheimer’s and his wife is not well.  They were evacuated due to flooding in their home, and are now living with us as they have no other family.  Do I need a power of attorney to help them file for flood assistance?  Is there anyone who can help us navigate how to access flood assistance?  Also, who can help me find out what resources are available for individuals living with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s who have been suddenly uprooted from their home?

  • The Red Cross can help with immediate needs.  Call 866.526.8300, option 3, to talk with a caseworker.
  • The 2-1-1 Texas/United Way HELPline will have updated disaster resources as they come available.  Call 2-1-1 from any phone.
  • You can call the State Bar of Texas’ Hurricane Harvey hotline at 800.504.7030. The hotline — answered in English, Spanish, and Vietnamese — connects low-income people affected by a disaster with legal aid providers in their area who can help with such issues as replacing lost documents, answering insurance questions, helping with landlord-tenant problems, and handling consumer protection concerns such as price-gouging and contractor scams during the rebuilding process.  Callers can leave a message at any time.
  • Houston Volunteer Lawyers also has an intake line   713.228.0732  or visit https://www.makejusticehappen.org/node/193]
  • If your home was ravaged by the floods or sustained any storm damage, you can register your damage with FEMA at 800.621.3362.
  • You can also file a personal claim with the Texas Department of Insurance’s consumer hotline at 800.252.3439.

3. My 87 year old father not only has Alzheimer’s but is also suffering from other ailments. He’s almost out of his medicine. Where or how can I get his prescriptions refilled?

Rx Open helps patients find nearby open pharmacies in areas impacted by disaster. Combining multiple data feeds from the pharmaceutical industry, Rx Open displays the precise location on Google Maps of open pharmacies, closed pharmacies, and those whose status is unknown.

Visit www.healthcareready.org/rxopen

Pharmacists may  provide emergency refills when the prescriber cannot be reached. Specifically, in an emergency, a pharmacist may use his/her professional judgment in refilling a prescription drug order for a drug (other than a Schedule II controlled substance) provided failure to refill the prescription might result in an interruption of a therapeutic regimen or create patient suffering.

4. We were concerned about my grandmother being alone during the storm, so we have moved her in with us for a couple of weeks. She is so confused, not knowing why she’s here, insisting on driving home even though we’ve told her 100 times the roads are closed, and so on. She seemed so capable at home, now I’m getting really worried that she has some sort of senility or something.

Seeing this kind of change in a loved one would certainly be a cause for concern. Disasters can be life-changing events, for older adults, it is especially tough as many see a lifetime of belongings and memories wiped out, and many feel that they are too old to start again.  It is not uncommon for otherwise healthy people to become confused or forgetful due to the stress.  However, during times of chaos and emotional trauma, people with cognitive issues and/or memory loss are especially vulnerable and may become more confused and agitated.  They may not understand what is happening or they may forget what is happening. Older individuals who have been displaced may exhibit confusion and agitation for the first time.  Caregivers may also be feeling the effects of stress during this time. For support assisting someone with cognitive and memory issues or for caregiver support, we are just a phone call away.  Call 800.272.3900 for 24/7 support in over 200 languages.

5. My heart goes out to all those dealing with family members with dementia during this crisis. I was a caregiver for my dad who had Alzheimer’s but he’s gone now. What can I do to help families dealing with dementia now?

Thank you for your concern. In the coming weeks and months, we will have so many reasons to be grateful for the assistance of others and can give back. Please give us your contact information so we can keep in touch with volunteer opportunities as they become available. Stay connected to our social media posts and share important updates.

6. We have lots of family members in my house, all of whom have been affected by flooding. I’ve also been caring for my aunt with dementia in my house. The worry about everything, seeing my beloved city so beleaguered, and her normal issues with toileting, questions, trying to cook and so on, is pushing me over the brink. I can’t sleep and find myself snapping at her. What can I do to reduce this stress? How can I get some help?

Our 24/7 Helpline (800.272.3900), and ALZConnected online community are all useful sources for finding comfort and reassurance. If stress becomes overwhelming,  call our Helpline at 800.272.3900 or talk to a professional about emotional distress by calling the Disaster Distress Helpline at 800.985.5990 or texting “TalkWithUs” to 66746.


Have questions? Please post them in the comments section below and we will try to answer them as we can.

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AlzTex Admin

The Alzheimer's Association Houston & Southeast Texas Chapter (www.alz.org/texas) consists of families, caregivers, scientists, health professionals, and concerned citizens who are committed to finding a cure for Alzheimer's Disease and to easing the burden of Alzheimer's Disease and related disorders on patients and their families and loved ones.

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