Confusion in the storm: Alzheimer’s patient refused to evacuate
NBC News reports that amid the chaos of superstorm Sandy, an 89-year-old woman with Alzheimer’s disease rebuffed rescuers’ efforts and refused to evacuate her New Jersey home this week, raising questions about her safety — and about the dilemma posed by dementia patients during a disaster.
Caregivers from a home care agency had taken Helen Gatanis, who lives in Salem County, to a local nursing home for care early Monday. But when the woman with mid-stage Alzheimer’s disease realized where she was, she grew distressed and combative, said Valerie Neighbors, president of the home care company.
There was no way to force Gatanis to stay — she’s competent to make such decisions — so, rather than upset her more, caregivers took her back home to wait out the storm.
Gatanis survived Monday night with no ill effects; staff were blocked by downed trees and road closures from reaching her, so they called the Pennsville Township Police Department at least twice to send officers to check on her.
As of Wednesday, Gatanis had power, the roads were being cleared near her house and a caregiver was with her.
But her situation highlights the plight of some 5.4 million people in the United States who have dementia — and the family members who care for them. Because of their condition, they’re more vulnerable than others to the impact of disasters, and less able to cope with them, experts say.