(UNDATED) – Wandering is one of the most frequent and challenging problems caregivers face and can be extremely dangerous in extreme weather conditions. With some of the coldest air of the season set to arrive this weekend, the Alzheimer’s Association Greater Indiana Chapter is offering information on the risk of wandering.
Warning Signs of Wandering
Six in 10 people with dementia will wander. Anyone who has memory problems and is able to walk is at risk for wandering. Even in the early stages of dementia, a person can become disoriented or confused for a period of time.
Be on the lookout for the following warning signs:
- Returns from a regular walk or drive later than usual
- Forgets how to get to familiar places.
- Talks about fulfilling former obligations, such as going to work
- Tries or wants to “go home,” even when at home
- Is restless, paces, or makes repetitive movements
- Has difficulty locating familiar places like the bathroom, bedroom, or dining room
- Asks the whereabouts of past friends and family
Tips for Preventing Wandering
Wandering can happen, even to the most diligent of caregivers.
Use the following strategies to help lower the chances:
- Continue with daily activities. Having a routine can provide structure and help reduce the likelihood of wandering.
- Identify the most likely times of day that wandering may occur. Plan activities at that time to help 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,” refrain from correcting the person. For example, say “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 he or she thirsty or hungry?
- Avoid busy places that are confusing and can cause disorientation. This could be shopping malls, grocery stores, or other busy venues.
- Place locks out of the line of sight. Install either high or low on exterior doors, and consider placing slide bolts at the top or bottom.
- Use devices that signal when a door or window is opened. This can be as simple as a bell placed above a door or as sophisticated as an electronic home alarm.
- Disguise doors that lead outside, especially the main door, by hanging drapes.
- Provide supervision. Do not leave someone with dementia unsupervised in new or changed surroundings. Never lock a person in at home or leave him or her in a car alone.
- Keep car keys out of sight. People with dementia don’t always wander by foot. Those who no longer drive may forget and decide to get behind the wheel, so it is important to remove access to car keys. If the person is still able to drive, consider using a GPS device to help if they get lost.
Making a plan in case wandering occurs
The stress experienced by families and caregivers when a person with dementia wanders and becomes lost 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.
- Keep a list of places where the person may wander. This could include past jobs, former homes, places of worship, or a restaurant.
- Consider enrolling in a MedicAlert plan. More information can be found at alz.org/medicalert.
If the person does wander, search the immediate area for no more than 15 minutes. Call 911 and report that a person with Alzheimer’s disease — a “vulnerable adult” — is missing.
Additional tips and resources are available any time – day or night – at alz.org/care or through the Alzheimer’s Association’s free, 24/7 Helpline at 800-272-3900.