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New eBook will prepare people with dementia for natural disasters

Dementia patients

Information: “With so many people living with dementia in their own homes there are some simple but critical tasks that carers can undertake like cleaning leaves from roof gutters … and many more besides.”

AUSTRALIANS are warned to prepare for natural disasters.

But how do hundreds of thousands of Australians suffering from dementia cope during cyclones, floods and fires?

A new guide from Queensland University of Technology’s Dementia Centre for Research Collaboration aims to assist the army of Australians who care for people with dementia, to be ready for the next disaster.

Centacare’s dementia strategy manager Ann Donaghy describes as “simply brilliant” the Preparing for a Natural Disaster eBook, written in partnership with the Red Cross.

“It’s colourful, easy to read, and just a few minutes spent planning ahead can save a life in a critical situation,” she said.

“With so many people living with dementia in their own homes there are some simple but critical tasks that carers can undertake like cleaning leaves from roof gutters… and many more besides.”

More than 425,000 Australians live with dementia, and in a country beset by natural disasters, the new eBook is a valuable tool.

“Many of us will be impacted by one (natural disaster) at some stage,” QUT’s School of Nursing lead researcher Dr Linda Schnitker said.

“For carers of people with dementia, there is an extra layer of anxiety and potential danger.

“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.

“An American study found there was an increase in deaths of residents with dementia at thirty and ninety days after Hurricane Gustav in 2008, compared to their peers not affected by it.

“In Australia, the negative impact of events like tropical cyclone Yasi (2011) on older people’s health, including those with dementia, has also been documented.”

Dr Schnitker said QUT-led research had previously shown Australian residential aged-care facilities were well prepared for natural disasters but much less effort had been expended on responding to the special challenges faced by people with dementia and their carers living in the community.

She said the 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,” she said.

“If that person attends a day care or respite centre, ask what their emergency and evacuation plans are.”

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