Planning For When Your Loved One Does Wander
In case your loved one does wander, its a good idea to have a plan in place.
- Notify neighbors and local police about your loved ones tendency to wander, and circulate your phone number.
- Have your loved one wear an ID bracelet or labels in clothing. Digital devices using GPS technology can track your loved ones location.
- In case a police search becomes necessary, have a recent photo of your loved one and some unwashed clothing to help search-and-rescue dogs.
- In the U.S., sign up for the Alzheimers Associations Medic Alert and Safe Return Program, an identification system to help rescue lost Alzheimers patients.
How to find a missing Alzheimers patient
A person with dementia may not call out for help or answer your calls, even when trapped somewhere, leaving them at risk for dehydration and hypothermia.
Check dangerous areas near the home, such as bodies of water, dense foliage, tunnels, bus stops, and high balconies.
Look within a one-mile radius of where the patient was before wandering.
Look within one hundred feet of a road, as most wanderers start out on roads and remain close by. Especially look carefully into bushes and ditches, as your loved one may have fallen or become trapped.
Search in the direction of the wanderers dominant hand. People usually travel first in their dominant direction.
Investigate familiar places, such as former residences or favorite spots. Often, wandering has a particular destination.
Consider Emergency Medical Ids
A lower-tech contingency plan is having a dementia patient wear some sort of medical identification. The Alzheimers Association partners with the MedicAlert Foundation to operate a nationwide identification system called Safe Return. The person with Alzheimers wears a piece of medical ID jewelry that is engraved with critical information and a phone number to call if theyre found while wandering. Their caregiver can contact the 24/7 emergency response team to report them missing.
An Individual Wandering With Dementia Can Be Serious
Individuals may suddenly walk away from a place of care such as a day centre, their own home or from a residential care home. They then can become lost and confused about where they are and do not even know where they may be trying to go.
This can be very frightening for the person with memory problems and for carers at the place of care. Many of these people cant identify themselves or cant explain where they live to somebody. This can lead to a dangerous situation if the person is not identified as being lost and confused.
There are may reasons that may lead a person to wander. It could be a persons medication, fear or anxiety, stress due to moving home, disorientation with their surroundings, restlessness or un-awareness of a situation.
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Outcome Of Wandering In Dementia
The consequences of the wandering can vary from minor injury on the body to severe injury and death.20,21 The persistent wandering behavior and weak gait and balance have been shown to increase the risk of falls, fractures, and accidents in PwD.22,23 It was also found that patients who wander often and are unable to sit down for meals can suffer from malnutrition, weight loss, and fatigue as a result of their high caloric needs.22 In addition, swelling and abrasions, soft tissue injuries, and abnormal body temperature was also observed among eloped dementia patients.23
Flag Any Access To Bicycles Lawn Mowers Tractors Golf Carts
Keep in mind your loved ones might decide its a good idea to ride one of these vehicles . Be sure to monitor their ability to use them safely and block access if they cant. One can get quite a distance in one of these alternative vehicles.
Remember that abilities and needs can vary greatly among individuals with dementia, and safety concerns can change as the disease progresses. Continually assess your loved ones risk for getting lost or injured if they leave the home. Do whatever you can to minimize the chance that theyll be in danger and have a plan in place outlining what youll do if they get lost, including notifying authorities, friends and family. Dont delay preventive measures are well worth it when it comes to protecting our loved ones.
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When Is Wandering An Issue
The act of wandering isnt necessarily harmful, as long as it occurs within a secure and controlled environment. In fact, professionals encourage wandering because its a form of exercise and movement that is beneficial. However, wandering can be a matter of life and death, posing safety issues if preventative measures arent taken. Exiting a secure and controlled environment can lead the individual into harmful weather, unfamiliar areas, rough terrain and dangerous roadways.
Routines with similar activities each day provide beneficial structure. If you can identify times of the day or particular behavior that triggers the act of wandering, then you may be able to implement meaningful activities to keep your loved one better engaged. If the individual is waiting for family/friends, provide reassurance that they will be visiting soon to help reduce anxiety, stress and searching. If they are looking to go to work, have them get dressed for work and perform some work functions like sorting or filing paperwork.
Install Alarms And Locks
Consider gadgets and technology that will alert you that your loved ones are up and about before they leave the home, such as audio and video monitors, floor mat or seat pad alarms, motion sensor alarms or simple door chime alarms. Make door handles more difficult to open by using door lever safety locks or door knob safety covers. Try installing deadbolt locks where they are harder to see like above eye level or below the normal placement. You may need multiple items in place to attain peace of mind. Just be sure that you can exit in an emergency.
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What Is The Best Way To Handle Wandering Patients
You may come to find that your loved ones wandering behaviors are merely annoying and do not pose any harm. This is a good thing because it does not generally require intervention beyond basic safety measures. Walking provides many health benefits and can be a good activity for seniors. However, if a person with dementia is walking to the point of exhaustion, losing weight, falling, getting lost or escaping into unsafe areas , then interventions are necessary.
I have found that family, paid caregivers and health care providers tend to want to control or stop troubling dementia behaviors through medications or physical restraints. However, there are no FDA-approved medications for wandering behaviors, and the medications many doctors recommend can cause sedation and contribute to falls. Additionally, the use of physical restraints can be detrimental to an elders physical and mental health, enhancing the risk of poor circulation, pressure ulcers, weakness, incontinence, increased dependence, depression, agitation, fear and isolation.
Be Prepared For Dementia Wandering
Some wandering is likely even with preventive steps. Making a plan and knowing what to do in advance will help you find your senior loved one more quickly in case of dementia wandering. Follow these four steps to ensure youre ready for an emergency.
1. Prepare important documents. Make copies of these documents and share them with home care aides and other family caregivers:
- A recent, close-up photo of your relative
- Up-to-date medical information to give police in case of emergency
- A list of people to call for help, like friends and neighbors
- A list of places your loved one with dementia may wander former homes, jobs, favorite restaurants, or places of worship
- A list of places and people theyve mentioned while experiencing dementia symptoms
- A wandering information sheet tracking your loved ones symptoms and behaviors over time
2. Dont be afraid to ask for help. Having all possible resources available can be necessary in case of emergency.
3. Be aware of your surroundings and your loved ones condition. Knowledge of your neighborhood and your aging relatives wandering habits can save time in an emergency.
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What If They Go Missing
Employing these precautions will help to prevent wandering. However, if someone for whom you provide care goes missing, contact your local law enforcement agency.
To quickly locate a missing Alzheimers patient, your local police department might issue a Silver Alert. The system exists in several states, including Florida and North Carolina, and involves a coordinated operation between local law enforcement and families of missing persons with dementia or cognitive impairment.
Note: Alzheimers News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Alzheimers News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Alzheimers Disease.
Lock Doors To Prevent Wandering
Its a seemingly obvious solution, but locking the doors is one of the best ways. Dementia causes significant confusion in its unfortunate sufferers. These patients are frequently unable to perform simple tasks like unlocking doors.
Usually, this inability or reduced ability to perform tasks is an unfortunate symptom of the disorder. In this case, however, it works in favor of the caregiver seeking to protect their loved one.
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Install Door Locks For Dementia Patients
Specialized locks and escape prevention devices can be installed on doors, windows and gates. These products require complex maneuvers to open entrances/exits, making it difficult for seniors with moderate to severe cognitive impairment to leave. Keyless electronic locks can also be used in this manner. Be aware that dementia presents differently in each person. Some individuals, especially those in the early stages, may still be able to reason well enough to unlock some of the dementia-proof devices on the market.
Another option is to install sliding bolt locks out of a seniors line of sighteither up high or down low on door frames. These can be used on their own or in conjunction with other locks to serve as a back-up method for securing doors.
Never lock a person with dementia in the home by themselves. Proper supervision is required to ensure their safety, and doors should only be secured when another person is present. Otherwise, the dementia patient could be trapped in the event of an emergency, such as a fire or urgent medical issue.
How To Reduce Dementia Wandering At Night
Dementia wandering at night is a common problem, especially in conjunction with sundown syndrome. Denny suggests taking these steps to reduce the likelihood and hazards of nighttime wandering:
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Create And Maintain A Routine
Creating a daily schedule provides routine and structure. Having a list of things that need to be done at a particular time or place may help prevent someone from wandering off. It’s even better if the list includes things the person enjoys or has found meaningful in the past. Using various sensory cues to remind the person that this schedule exists may be useful, including alarms, lights, or having a schedule on a large print daily planner or a whiteboard.
Why There Might Be Wandering
If you are concerned that your parent is of high risk of going missing try to identify what they are trying to achieve when they go walking, perhaps keep a diary of where they go. While it is great for physical and mental well-being, the worry that that they could become disorientated and lost whilst out is very real. Try to accompany your parent on their walks and establish the purpose. Possible reasons for leaving the house could include:
- A long established routine of going for a walk is something they wish to continue
- Going for a walk gives a sense of purpose
- Its a great way to use up some energy, particularly if they feel sleep is an issue
- It may bring pain relief or certainly some distraction or relief from anxiety
- Perhaps they have recently moved and feel uncertain about their new surroundings
- They might be searching for something or someone from the past
- Perhaps doing something useful they used to do such as collecting the children from school gives a sense of fulfilment
- Confusion about the time of day
- Confusion in the home which has meant they accidentally leave the house without meaning to whilst looking for eg the loo or the kitchen
It is a frightening prospect to imagine your parent wandering lost away from home, but there are plenty of things you can do to minimise the risk and also practical things such as tech solutions and The Herbert Protocol that can help should it happen.
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Make Sure They Can Be Identified
Be sure your loved ones have some form of identification on them. Multiple forms of identification, emergency contact numbers and disclosure of their medical diagnosis of dementia are a good idea, in case one form is removed or lost. You might get an ID bracelet or pendant, or one that laces into shoelaces or attaches to a watchband, as well as identification inside their clothing and in their wallet. My boyfriend suggested a very simple Road ID bracelet with a comfortable wristband like the one he wore when he went running. I purchased one for my dad, and he wore it for eight years, never trying to remove it. Be sure you have recent photos in case they are needed for identification in a search effort to locate an older adult who is missing.
What To Do If Your Loved One Is Missing
Despite your best efforts, there is a high likelihood that your loved one could wander away. Three out of five people with dementia will wander. Heres what to do:
- Search the area where the person was last seen for no more than 15 minutes.
- Alert friends and neighbours to the situation.
- Have someone stay at home in case the person returns.
The sooner you ask for help, the sooner your loved one is likely to be found.
If you need extra help to care for a loved one with dementia, we are here for you. Our caregivers are trained and certified in dementia care.
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How To Stop Dementia Patients From Wandering
I have spent my career as a gerontological nurse practitioner working with people who have Alzheimers disease or other forms of dementia. My interest in this field began when my grandmother developed dementia and I was dissatisfied with the care and level of understanding she received from medical professionals.
Families often consult with me about one worrisome symptom of dementia: wandering. For dementia patients, this behavior is very different from the aimless wandering of hikers exploring the woods or tourists moseying around a new city. Most often, there is nothing purposeless about the wandering behaviors I observe.
My grandmothers case is an excellent example. While she was in the middle stages of the disease, she became adamant about going home across the river. She must have been thinking of a childhood home in Europe, because she never lived near a river in the United States. My grandma would escape from the house, walk straight across a nearby golf course and interrupt peoples games. Later, she would remark that the people outside were very nice because they waved at her. In reality, the golfers were mad and trying to shoo her off the course!
Solutions To Prevent Wandering
Imagine the sensation of suddenly realizing youve lost your loved one. This is what its like to be caregiver to someone who wanders. The way you counteract it is by holding to a routine, which establishes normalcy, and planning. If you understand what wandering is, and the steps toward preventing it, you can drastically lower the potential for your loved one to wander, and you can have a plan of action if they do.
Check the BasicsWandering may be caused by some essential need, like having to go to the bathroom, or being thirsty or hungry. Keeping your loved one comfortable can make a big difference.
See the DocWandering may be caused by side-effects from medications, or delusions and hallucinations that come with dementia. See the doctor to rule these causes out, or for help addressing them.
Study BehaviorIf your loved one wanders, try to understand when and why. Look for patterns, and adjust accordingly. For example, if your loved one wanders because of restlessness, try going on more walks together. If it happens in the afternoon, fill that time with an activity.
Mind SurroundingsKnow your neighborhood, and where your loved one might wander to. Identify dangerous areas like stairwells, construction sites, bodies of water, and busy streets.
Know the SpotsKeep a list of familiar places your loved one might seek out, including church, favorite restaurants, friends homes, and former jobs.
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