Seniors and Alzheimers | July 6, 2016
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.
Ask any Alzheimer or dementia caregiver what one of their main concerns is, and they will likely mention wandering. One minute your senior loved one is there, and the next minute they are gone. 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.
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 ways to identify if your elderly loved one is at risk and strategies and services to help prevent wandering.
Signs Of Increased Risk for Dementia & Alzheimer’s Wandering in Seniors
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 Prevent Elderly Dementia Patients Wandering In Public
- Provide Supervision: Never lock the person in at home or leave him or her in a car alone.
- Avoid Busy Places: Busy places sometimes are confusing and can cause disorientation; this could include shopping malls, grocery stores, or other busy venues.
- Carry ID:Keeping an ID in a senior loved one’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.
- Have Seniors Dress In Bright Clothing: Choose clothing that’s easy to see from a distance, especially if you’re planning to be in a crowd.
- Provide Daily Structure: 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, & Regular Sleep: All of these can reduce anxiety, agitation, and restlessness.
- Provide Reassurance: When your senior loved feels lost, abandoned, or disoriented, provide reassurance. 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.
How To Reduce Dementia Wandering At Home
Helping Seniors with Alzheimer’s 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 Or Alzheimer’s 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 by clicking here.
- Use “silver alerts”. They work like an Amber Alert that is used for missing children. Learn more about this program and if it is available in your area by visiting the BC Silver Alerts
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.
For additional information on Comfort Keepers of Canada® at Toronto or any other Comfort Keepers of Canada® location please visit our home page or call us at 416-663-2930.
- 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.