Caring for dementia patients in a disaster

Weather map showing Cyclone Gabrielle's strong winds lashing the North Island of Aotearoa-New Zealand
Cyclone Gabrielle hits New Zealand with a national disaster. (Image:

In a natural disaster, how do you care for dementia patients?

For the past five days, Cyclone Gabrielle has gripped Aotearoa-New Zealand, laying waste to much of the North Island. Smashing homes. Ruining crops. Cutting off communities. Cutting communications and power and bridges to many areas. Rivers and tides have risen with dramatic speed. Sodden land has slipped away, knocking down houses on its way. Damaging roads all over the island. (As a non-engineer, I just can’t see how some of those roads can ever be rebuilt.)

Managing frail elderly patients with dementia in a disaster

Imagine yourself working in a rest home where some residents have dementia, when the police knock on your door with an order to evacuate. For a hint of just how stressful this was for staff and residents, listen to the interview from the following link. Despite difficulties, the situation was resolved smoothly.

Interview with the owner of Bryant House rest home

Listen: did anyone hear the word “climate”?

Answer: yes. Finally I’m hearing the word “climate” associated with the word “weather.” This severe weather event has finally convinced a lot of people that the climate crisis is real. Here’s what Marama Davis, co-leader of the Green Party Aotearoa-New Zealand, said today. “The best time to tackle climate change was thirty years ago. And the second best time is now.”

Why dementia patients need extra care in a disaster

In his interview, Greg Pritchard describes how important it was to keep the rest home residents apart from other evacuees. The carers needed to limit the abnormality of a thoroughly abnormal situation. Having dementia patients mix with outsiders, for example, would disturb both groups.

But managing a group of frail elderly people in a crisis is an extremely demanding task.

Complex task of caring for dementia patients in a disaster

Here in Wellington we were barely touched by Gabrielle. A bit of wet windy weather, nothing worse. We were lucky. I’ve been impressed the quality and speed of official responses. Government bodies and local councils seemed well prepared for this disaster. We are so grateful for the courageous help of many many organisations, community groups, and individuals. Among those, the staff of Bryant House as they managed the evacuation and return of 22 elderly patients when floodwaters threatened their safety.

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10 thoughts on “Caring for dementia patients in a disaster

  1. I can well imagine the difficulties, but know from personal experience that the care staff would have gone out of their way to ensure the absolute minimum disruption to those they cared for, probably at the expense of their own families!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      That’s a heartfelt reply.

  2. judibwriting says:

    I have been keeping everyone in my heart as this storm made the news in the US as well. I keep thinking, “there but for the grace of all the gods, go I.”

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      So true, and we are all on the same planet. To top it off, we had a strong earthquake yesterday; luckily it was 50km below ground, so there was no damage. Our prime minister said he looked out the window for a plague of locusts next!

  3. Suzanne says:

    Memories of past trauma can also make the current situation more difficult. Changing of routine is not good for some dementia patients as was my experience with Dad. I laughed when I read that comment from the PM this morning regarding locusts. A bit of a repeat performance for a new P.M.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I hope you weren’t hit too hard.?

      1. Suzanne says:

        No, Rachel, Tauranga and generally the Bay of Plenty got off very lightly. Though family in the Gisborne and Hawkes Bay areas did not. Crazy weather.

      2. Rachel McAlpine says:

        Sorry to hear about your family.

      3. Suzanne says:

        Thanks, Rachel, they are alive that is the main thing.

  4. I was aware of the two disasters, but yours is the first post about them I’ve seen. Thanks for letting us know you are fine.

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