The Ask the Expert Column appears in the Palm Beach Post every Tuesday!
Question: What can I do to prevent my wife, who has Alzheimer’s disease from wandering and getting lost?
Answer: More than half of the people with Alzheimer’s tend to wander — but they may wander for different reasons. Some are carrying out an agenda, like going to work or going home to take care of their babies. And for those people, we understand what the escape-seeking behavior is all about.
In these types of situations, because you know why the person is wandering, you can create an environment that allows them to work at a desk with scratch paper or to handle young children who may come into the home to visit, as an example.
When you don’t understand why they are wandering and seeking to escape, it becomes much more difficult. But you can implement some safety measures: You can put alarms on beds and chairs and locks on doors that are out of her visual range. And you can be sure that if she does wander off, that there is a way of identifying her. The Alzheimer’s Association’s Safe Return Program is a good choice.
You can alert friends and neighbors that wandering may be a problem and to please make sure that if they find her, they bring her back home or keep her until a family member is located.
Sometimes using color coding or grids on the floor to act as a barrier can help, as well as placing a “stop” sign or “do not enter” sign on doors, and keeping them closed.
I always recommend trying a variety of methods until you find the ones that are most effective. Most importantly I encourage families, whenever possible, to construct a safe wandering environment for their loved one. This might be fencing in the backyard and adding some shrubs, so the person with dementia can still exercise and get plenty of those wandering behaviors taken care of, but in a safe way.
Please submit your questions to [email protected]