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Caregiving After a Catastrophe

For most caregivers, helping your loved ones cope with everyday life can require time and patience when things are running smoothly. If a disaster like Hurricane Sandy has disrupted your lives, here are steps you can take to minimize the trauma as your loved one adjusts to a new routine or new surroundings.

Helping those with Cognitive Impairment
"Even someone with mild dementia can be very vulnerable after changes in routine," says Judy Santamaria, Director of Caregiver Support for VNSNY. "Anything you can do to help them understand the changes or to reduce confusion will help them adjust." 

  • Try to maintain your loved one's schedule as best you can. If your mom typically has lunch at 11:30 while watching "her shows," see if you can arrange for her to have access to a television. 
  • Expect that your loved one will have restless energy. "Alzheimer's patients will wander," says Santamaria, "even if it's doing laps around the living room. Go outside for walks if you can. Also, consider getting a Medic Alert identification bracelet in case your loved one goes out alone and gets disoriented. At the very least, have a recent photograph."
  • "Touchstones" can help reduce agitation, but if your loved one's favorite items were lost or destroyed, you may need to be creative. "If there's no hope of replacing a photo album, for example, the activity itself might help. Your dad might be comforted by looking through your albums. At the same time, his agitation might increase if it's something he doesn't recognize."
  • Be aware that your loved one may need a lot of reassurance. "Expect that you'll answer a lot of questions and that you may be asked the same ones repeatedly," says Santamaria.
  • Expect that your loved one will want to go home. "Don't be surprised if you have to keep reminding your dad that he's safe, that he's in the right place, that he's where he's supposed to be," says Santamaria. "If he wants to go home, rather than telling him he can't, come up with an answer that will reduce anxiety. 'As soon as it's safe,' might reassure him." 
  • If you're coping with loss yourself, your loved one may pick up on your tension and become agitated. Take the time to find healthy ways to manage stress for you—and your whole family's—benefit.

Dealing with Displacement
As a caregiver, you may have wondered whether someday one or both of your parents might have to move in. If a crisis has caused them to evacuate, you may find yourself scrambling to make all the arrangements and logistics. Here are general considerations and tips for before and after a parent moves in. Other things to keep in mind:

  • If your loved one is no longer able to live alone, it's important to get help with the transition. "This is a crisis," says Santamaria. "Your parents may need more help than they had previously, or may need more help than you expect. Speak to your parents' physician about getting a home health aide." 
  • Remember that you may need training and support as your caregiving responsibilities increase and as you help your parent adapt. "You'll need to know how to look for and handle certain behaviors such as depression, apathy or combativeness," says Santamaria. "Keep an eye out for cues that indicate anxiety, like pacing or fidgeting." 

As you and your loved ones adjust, remember to take care of yourself. "Managing your own health, finding time to pursue your own interests, and connecting with other caregivers will go a long way toward enabling you to provide care for the long-term and give a better quality of life for your family member," says Santamaria.