Power’s Out, But Dementia’s Fully Charged
It starts with dark clouds gathering. Then the wind kicks up a little—and then a lot. Lightening streaks across the sky, and finally huge, pelting raindrops are splashing against the windows. And that’s when the lights flicker; they’re on, they’re off, back on for a second or two, and then the house is plunged into a silent, dark hibernation.
We’ve all been there; my own home recently experienced a lengthy outage from a storm system that passed through the Houston area. It got me thinking about how difficult this situation is for dementia caregivers. For most of us, it’s an inconvenience, a nuisance to be endured until the electrician-superheroes wrestle the power back into submission. But for the dementia caregiver…oh, my.
While the storm rages outside, something else is erupting inside the house: the dementia patient’s response to the storm itself—and the power outage that goes along with it.
A dementia patient’s reaction to the instant “flip” from light to dark may be nothing short of panic, and if Sundowning occurs (that’s the dramatic mood change that some Alzheimer’s patients experience late in the day), they may suffer with even higher-than-usual level of agitation. Because the loss of power happens so fast, the caregiver may be unable to reason with the patient; a full-blown panic attack may already be underway before the caregiver even has a chance to light a couple of candles.
Then there’s the temperature issue; the longer the power stays out, the more closely the indoor temperature will align with the weather outside. The gradual creep of the heat (or the cold) can have a profoundly negative affect on the dementia patient, and their confusion can lead to major caregiver frustration. The difficulty is that the caregiver can neither fix it nor explain it in a way that the patient can retain the information.
And on top of everything else, there are the difficulties that arise due to medical equipment that can’t function because there is no power; oxygen, ventilators, power wheelchairs, sleep apnea devices (just to name a few) all depend on electricity to function. If these devices aren’t able to run because the power is out, the result can be far worse than mere inconvenience; consequences can include life and death emergencies.
So, what can a caregiver do to keep things running safely and as smoothly as possible when the power goes out?
Have a Plan
- IF (AND ONLY IF) IT IS SAFE TO DRIVE—
- Determine if there is some place with power that you and your loved one can easily drive to (this can include the home of a friend or a relative)
- Keep a “go” bag ready with a change of clothes; before leaving, add medications and any necessary medical equipment
Create an Emergency Kit (For use if you are unable to leave your house)
- Flashlights and/or camping lanterns
- Battery-operated portable fans (for summer)
- Extra batteries
- Extra blankets (for winter)
- Non-perishable snacks
- Bottled water
Purchase a Portable Power Bank
- This device has the ability to charge your cell phone or tablet when the power is out
- Keeping the phone charged provides a way for you to call for emergency help if it’s needed
- You can also play downloaded music on your phone or tablet—this may help keep the dementia patient calm and give them something pleasant to focus on
- Determine if necessary medical equipment has a battery back-up; if it does not, a smaller power bank can help with smaller medical devices (such as the CPAP machine for sleep apnea). Larger medical equipment will require a larger power bank
Keep Yourself Calm
- If you remain calm, your loved one with dementia stands a better chance of being calm as well
- Use available memory triggers (like photos) to stimulate conversation that will get their mind off of the power outage
- As much as possible, follow the normal, routine schedule for the day; pull out the non-perishable snacks at normal mealtimes, give meds at their usual times, and use the memory triggers to get the dementia patient talking when they might normally be watching TV
So much of being a successful caregiver comes down to simple trial and error, but pre-planning for “emergency” situations like this can make the path forward a little bit smoother.