As we know, one of the most dangerous behaviors of Alzheimer’s disease is wandering. 6 in 10 people with Alzheimer’s or dementia will wander. A person with this debilitating disease may not remember his or her name or address and can become disoriented. Today we will discuss tips to prevent wandering and how you can make a plan to reduce the risk.
Sometimes wandering is triggered by a particular medication. If you feel this is the case, contact your doctor and discuss the symptoms and other options.
Often, though, someone who’s wandering is:
- Searching for something – Wanderers are often looking for something or someone familiar, especially if they recently moved to a new environment. In other cases, wanderers are trying to satisfy a basic need, such as hunger or thirst — but they’ve forgotten what to do or where to go. Many wanderers are looking for a bathroom.
- Escaping from something – Sometimes wandering is a result of stress, anxiety or too much stimulation, such as multiple conversations in the background or even the noise of pots and pans in the kitchen.
- Reliving the past – If wandering occurs at the same time every day, it might be linked to a lifelong routine. For example, a woman who tries to leave the nursing home every day at 5 p.m. might believe she’s going home from work.
Tips to Prevent Wandering
Wandering can happen, even if you are the most careful of caregivers. Here are some helpful tips to lower the chances:
- Carry out daily activities – Having a routine can provide structure
- Identify the most likely times of the day wandering may occur – Plan activities at that time. Activities and exercise can reduce anxiety, agitation and restlessness
- Reassure the person if he or she feels lost, abandoned or disoriented – If the person with dementia wants to leave to “go home” or “go to work,” use communication focused on exploration and validation. Refrain from correcting the person. Here are some examples:
“We are staying here tonight”
“We are safe and I’ll be with you”
“We can go home in the morning after a good night’s rest”
- Ensure all basic needs are met – Has the person gone to the bathroom? Is she or he hungry or thirsty?
- Avoid busy places that are confusing and can cause disorientation – This could be a shopping mall, grocery food store or other bus venues
- Place locks out of the line of sight – Install either high or low locks on exterior doors and consider placing side bolts at the top or bottom
- Camouflage doors and door knobs – Camouflage doors by painting them the same color as the walls or cover them with removable curtains or screens. Cover knobs with cloth the same color as the door.
- Use devices that signal when a door or window is open – This can be as simple as a bell placed above a door or as sophisticated as an electronic home alarm.
- Provide supervision – Never lock the person with dementia in at home along or leave him or her in a car without supervision
- Keep car keys out of sight – Never leave the car keys in plain sight or in a place where they can be easily found.
If night wandering is a problem:
- Make sure the person with dementia has restricted fluids two hours before bedtime and has gone to the bathroom just before bed. Use nightlights throughout the home
- Make a Plan
- The stress experienced by families and caregivers when a loved one goes missing is significant. Have a plan in place beforehand, so you know what to do in case of an emergency.
- Keep a list of people to call on for help.
- Have telephone numbers easily accessible.
- Ask neighbors, friends and family to call if they see the person alone.
- Keep a recent, close-up photo and updated medical information on hand to give to police.
- Know your neighborhood.
- Pinpoint dangerous areas near the home, such as bodies of water, open stairwells, dense foliage, tunnels, bus stops and roads with heavy traffic.
- Is the individual right or left-handed?
- Wandering generally follows the direction of the dominant hand.
- Keep a list of places where the person may wander.
- This could include past jobs, former homes, places of worship or a restaurant.
- Provide the person with ID jewelry.
- Enroll the person in a wandering alert system
- MedicAlert®+ Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return®
- Consider having the person carry or wear an electronic tracking GPS device that helps manage location.
- Comfort Zone® and Comfort Zone Check-In® are two options.
- If the person does wander, search the immediate area for no more than 15 minutes.
- Call “911” and report to the police that a person with Alzheimer’s disease — a “vulnerable adult” — is missing. A Missing Report should be filed and the police will begin to search for the individual. In addition, a report should be filed with MedicAlert+ Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return at 1.800.625.3780. First responders are trained to check with MedicAlert+ Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return when they locate a missing person with dementia. You do not need to be enrolled in MedicAlert+ Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return in order to file a missing report.
- When someone with dementia is missing:
- Begin search-and-rescue efforts immediately. Ninety-four percent of people who wander are found within 1.5 miles of where they disappeared.
For more information or if you would like to schedule a complimentary consultation to discuss your individual situation, call us at 855-476-7600 and remember, you are not alone.