According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 6 in 10 people with dementia will wander, and if not found within 24 hours, up to half will suffer serious injury or death.
Due to Canada’s growing number of seniors, many of whom are afflicted with Alzheimer’s and dementia, wandering is increasing. Even in familiar places, a person with Alzheimer’s may not remember his or her name or address, and can become disoriented. Wandering with dementia is dangerous, but there are strategies and services to help prevent it.
Of course, no one can watch another person every second of every day, and the anxiety for caregivers can become overwhelming. You listen for every creak at night. You may stop taking your loved one to public places. And if you live away from him or her, the stress increases even more.
Warning Signs of Wandering in Seniors with Dementia
Wandering and getting lost is common among people with dementia, and can happen during any stage of the disease. Be on the lookout for the following warning signs:
- Returning from a routine walk or drive later than usual
- Wanting to “go home,” or “to work”, even when at home or not employed
- Paces, shows anxiety, or makes repetitive movements
- Having difficulty finding familiar places like the bathroom, bedroom, or other rooms in the house
- Asking about the whereabouts of current or past friends and family
- Appearing lost in a new or changed environment
- Setting out to do regular tasks, but accomplishes nothing
Tips to Help Prevent Seniors with Dementia from Wandering
- Provide supervision. Never lock the person in at home or leave him or her in a car alone.
- Avoid busy places that are confusing and can cause disorientation. This could include shopping malls, grocery stores, or other busy venues.
- Make sure the person always carries ID.Keeping an ID in a person’s wallet isn’t enough, because he or she could remove it, either deliberately or accidentally. Medical ID jewelry, like a bracelet or pendant, is wise.
- Dress your loved one in bright clothing. Choose clothing that’s easy to see from a distance, especially if you’re planning to be in a crowd.
- Carry out daily activities. Having a routine and daily plan can provide structure.
- Note the most likely times of day that wandering may occur. Plan activities at that time.
- Activities, exercise, and regular sleep. All of these can reduce anxiety, agitation, and restlessness.
- Reassure the person if he or she feels lost, abandoned, or disoriented. If the person wants to leave to “go home” or “go to work,” do not correct him or her. Say that he or she is safe, and you are there,
then follow up with what you will be doing together.
- Ensure all basic needs are met. Check if the person needs the bathroom, or is thirsty or needs to eat. He or she may tend to wander for these reasons.
Caring for Seniors with Dementia at Home:
- Place locks out of the line of sight. Install them either high or low on exterior doors, and place slide bolts at the top or bottom. You may also need to install bars on windows, and a fence around the yard.
- Put up signs. Hang a sign inside a door to the outside that says ”Stop” or ”Do Not Enter”. Put signs on other doors, like the one to the bathroom, so he or she can see which door leads where, and won’t accidentally wind up outside.
- Camouflage doors and door knobs. Paint them the same color as the walls, or use childproof knobs. Try placing a black mat in front of the door, which may be perceived as a hole and will avoid exit seeking.
- 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.
- Keep car keys out of sight. Persons with dementia may drive off and be at risk of potential harm to themselves or others.
- If night wandering is a problem: Make sure the person has restricted fluids two hours before bedtime and has gone to the bathroom just before bed. Also, use night lights.
When a Senior with Dementia is Missing
Begin search-and-rescue efforts immediately, and call 911. Ninety-four percent of people who wander are found within 1.5 miles of where they disappeared. In addition:
- 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 for 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 senior 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 favorite restaurant.
- Register with the Medic Alert Safely Home programme. The Alzheimer Society of Canada has partnered with MedicAlert Foundation Canada, to supply police and emergency responders with the missing person’s physical description, emergency contacts and critical health information. You can learn more about this programme at: http://www.alzheimer.ca/en/Living-with-dementia/Day-to-day-living/Safety/Safely-Home#works
- Use “silver alerts”. They work like an Amber Alert that is used for missing children.
Comfort Keepers can help with home safety assessments and tracking technologies. We can conduct a home safety assessment and recommend safety measures, including Safety Choice® personal emergency monitoring systems (PERS) connected to a central monitoring station with personnel standing by to help in an emergency. SafetyChoice also offers door and window contacts, pressure sensitive floor mats, and wireless cameras. Ask your local Comfort Keepers office how we can help keep your loved one safe at home.
- Agingcare.com. “Helping a Senior with Dementia Who Wanders”. Web. 2016.
- WebMD. “Prevent Wandering: 10 Tips for Caregivers”. Web. 2014.
- Alz.org. Alzheimer’s Association. “Wandering and Dementia”. Web. 2016.
- Alzheimer’s Society of Canada. Medic Alert Safely Home Programme. Web 2015.