Experiencing a natural disaster is hard enough for anyone, but as Canterbury rest home operators will agree, getting through a disaster with the added responsibility of caring for older people with complex care needs and cognitive difficulties is harder still.

A new guide launched today in Australia aims to help carers of people with dementia prepare for a natural disaster.

The guide is the result of a partnership between the Australian Red Cross and the QUT’s Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation.

Lead researcher Dr Linda Schnitker from QUT’s School of Nursing says for carers of people with dementia, there is an extra layer of anxiety and potential danger, when it comes to natural disasters.

“They need to consider how to best help the person they care for and also protect themselves from harm.

“Research studies reveal exposure to a natural disaster may exacerbate dementia symptoms and increase the risk of functional decline, hospitalisation and mortality.

Dr Schnitker points to an American study that found there was an increase in deaths of residents with dementia at 30 and 90 days after Hurricane Gustav in 2008, compared to their peers not affected by it. Australia’s Cyclone Yasi in 2011 also is documented as having a negative impact on older people’s health.

The new guide was prepared with input from an expert panel of carers of people with dementia and emergency services workers to be used in conjunction with the Red Cross RediPlan tool and new Get Prepared App.

“Planning ahead is critical. So that might mean finding out if emergency exits are wheelchair accessible and whether or not an evacuation centre will cater for people with dementia. If that person attends a day care or respite centre, ask what their emergency and evacuation plans are,” Dr Schnitker said.

“The guide has three colour-coded sections with relevant dementia-specific advice covering preparing for a natural disaster, what to do during one – whether you stay at home, evacuate or the person becomes agitated or lost – and tips for the aftermath including returning home and how to access psychological support.”

The Preparing for a Natural Disaster Guide to using RediPlan for Carers of People with Dementia guide can be accessed online.

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