MedicAlert® + Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return® is a 24-hour nationwide emergency response service for individuals with Alzheimer’s or related dementia who wander or have a medical emergency. We provide 24-hour assistance, no matter when or where the person is reported missing.
People with Alzheimer’s disease can be especially vulnerable during disasters such as severe weather, fires, floods, earthquakes, and other emergency situations. It is important for caregivers to have a disaster plan that includes the special needs of people with Alzheimer’s, whose impairments in memory and reasoning severely limit their ability to act appropriately in crises.
In general, you should prepare to meet the needs of your family for 3 to 7 days, including having supplies and backup options if you lose basic services such as water or electricity. Organizations such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the American Red Cross provide information about making a general disaster preparedness plan.
As you assemble supplies for your family’s disaster kit, consider the needs of the person with Alzheimer’s. Be sure to store all supplies in a watertight container. The kit might contain:
In some situations, you may decide to “ride out” a natural disaster at home. In others, you may need to move to a safer place, like a community shelter or someone’s home. Relocation may make the person with Alzheimer’s very anxious. Be sensitive to his or her emotions. Stay close, offer your hand, or give the person reassuring hugs.
To plan for an evacuation:
Know how to get to the nearest emergency shelters.
If you don’t drive or driving is dangerous, arrange for someone to transport your group.
Make sure the person with Alzheimer’s wears an ID bracelet.
Take both general supplies and your Alzheimer’s emergency kit.
Pack familiar, comforting items. If possible, plan to take along the household pet.
Save emergency numbers in your cell phone, and keep it charged.
Plan to keep neighbors, friends, and family informed about your location.
If conditions are noisy or chaotic, try to find a quieter place.
If You Are Separated
It’s very important to stay with a person with Alzheimer’s in a disaster. Do not count on the person to stay in one place while you go to get help. However, the unexpected can happen, so it is a good idea to plan for possible separation:
Prepare for wandering. Place labels in garments to aid in identification. Keep an article of the person’s clothing in a plastic bag to help dogs find him or her.
Identify specific neighbors or nearby family and friends who would be willing to help in a crisis. Make a plan of action with them should the person with Alzheimer’s be unattended during a crisis. Tell neighbors about the person’s specific disabilities, including the inability to follow complex instructions, memory loss, impaired judgment, disorientation, and confusion. Give examples of simple one-step instructions that the person may be able to follow.
Give someone you trust a house key and a list of emergency phone numbers.
Provide local police and emergency services with photos of the person with Alzheimer’s and copies of his or her medical documents, so they are aware of the person’s needs.
Many people with Alzheimer’s disease wander away from their home or caregiver. As the caregiver, you need to know how to limit wandering and prevent the person from becoming lost. This will help keep the person safe and give you greater peace of mind.
Try to follow these steps before the person with Alzheimer’s disease wanders:
Make sure the person carries some kind of ID or wears a medical bracelet. If the person gets lost and can’t communicate clearly, an ID will let others know about his or her illness. It also shows where the person lives.
Let neighbors and the local police know that the person with Alzheimer’s tends to wander. Ask them to alert you immediately if the person is seen alone and on the move.
Place labels in garments to aid in identification.
Keep an article of the person’s worn, unwashed clothing in a plastic bag to aid in finding him or her with the use of dogs.
Keep a recent photograph or video recording of the person to help police if he or she becomes lost.
Tips to Prevent Wandering
Here are some tips to help prevent the person with Alzheimer’s from wandering away from home:
Keep doors locked. Consider a keyed deadbolt, or add another lock placed up high or down low on the door. If the person can open a lock, you may need to get a new latch or lock.*
Use loosely fitting doorknob covers so that the cover turns instead of the actual knob.*
Place STOP, DO NOT ENTER, or CLOSED signs on doors.
Divert the attention of the person with Alzheimer’s disease away from using the door by placing small scenic posters on the door; placing removable gates, curtains, or brightly colored streamers across the door; or wallpapering the door to match any adjoining walls.
Install safety devices found in hardware stores to limit how much windows can be opened.
Install an “announcing system” that chimes when a door is opened.
Secure the yard with fencing and a locked gate.
Keep shoes, keys, suitcases, coats, hats, and other signs of departure out of sight.
Do not leave a person with Alzheimer’s who has a history of wandering unattended.