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VA Palo Alto Pilot Project Delivers Disaster Kits to Veterans with Dementia

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Disaster kits for Veterans

VAPAHCS' GRECC Team hands out disaster kits to Veterans with memory loss.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The dramatic debut decade of the 21st century might someday join the Roaring Twenties or the Sixties, but its title will probably be something like the Great Emergency. One disaster after another -- 9/11, war, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, another war, technological and economic failures, tornados -- certainly provide a sensational story-line and prove that none of us are immune in this interconnected era.

Governments must react to disasters, but they can also learn from previous experience and respond proactively. That is the spirit behind the VA Palo Alto Health Care System's Geriatric Research Education and Clinical Center/Geriatrics and Extended Care (GRECC/GEC) pilot project to distribute Disaster Education and Disaster Kits to Veterans with memory loss. The GRECC team aligned with Home Based Primary Care (HBPC) program representative Abbie Layton RNP and the VA San Jose Adult Day Health Care Program (ADHC) program representative Sue Anne McLean BSN, Director to develop and disseminate these kits.

The team put together 550 disaster kits and began distribution on June 24 to Veterans and caregivers through Home Based Primary Care (HBPC), Adult Day Health and GRECC clinics. The kits contained such things as a crank emergency radio, an emergency beacon, a first aid kit, photo ID and emergency contact number holders, hand sanitizers, gloves, face mask, key information related to behavior management strategies in a disaster, and other helpful disaster response information.

"These disaster kits are intended to support Veterans with special needs," said Dr. Nancy Oliva, Geriatric Fellow with GRECC.  "Research conducted after 9/11, during our troubled attempt to recover from Hurricane Katrina, revealed the special problems encountered by frail older adults and other populations of need. Memory loss can occur in Veterans, particularly in older adults, as a result of various dementias, previous traumatic brain injury and PTSD.  Disaster preparedness in a vulnerable Veteran and caregiver population calls for anticipatory guidance and structured support in the form of the basic information and supplies in the disaster kits."

The same research found that individuals with dementia are at particular risk of isolation and injury due to cognitive impairment. Sensory, cognitive and physiologic changes in older adults can result in barriers to awareness, communication and make it difficult to seek and find help during a disaster. This project was designed to address these important and complex needs among Veterans with dementia and their primary caregivers who are served in VA.

"The Disaster Kit Project team is also evaluating the impact of the Disaster Kit and preparedness information on Vets and caregivers' knowledge," said Betty Wexler, clinical nurse specialist. "The kits cost $25 each, with a total cost of $12,000 for 550 kits.  Much of that money came from community donations, including Craig Newmark-Craigconnects.org, the American Legion Auxiliary Unit, EPA 472 and Mission City Charities, Inc."