Wandering is one of the most common and potentially dangerous behaviors among patients with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. For families and caregivers of seniors living with Alzheimer’s/Dementia (AD), it’s important to understand the causes of wandering. Fortunately, armed with a variety of solutions and a thorough knowledge of possible dangers, you can take steps to reduce the chances that your loved one will wander.
Why wandering occurs
There are many reasons why wandering occurs. Often, the person feels an urgent need to get somewhere to fulfill an obligation from an earlier part of life such as going to work, picking up the kids, or getting home for supper. Sometimes the desire to wander arises simply out of boredom or a desire to get out of the house.
Because people with AD are not able to process their environment in the same way, they may become agitated or frightened by misinterpretations of the goings on around them. Also, wanderers frequently do not recognize where they are, even in a familiar environment. Because their memories of certain places were stored long ago, they are thrown off by slight changes like a new couch, or a different color of paint on a home in their neighborhood. Their reaction may be panic, fear, and a desire to get back to someplace they know. Caregivers often hear their loved ones say they “want to go home” even when they are already home.
The urgent desire to be somewhere else can also be attributed to the person being uncomfortable. He or she may be in pain, feel hungry, tired, or need to go to the bathroom. Because people with AD are not always able to understand the source of their discomfort, they look for a way out.
It’s important to remember that patients with AD usually have poor impulse control; they are not wandering deliberately or out of defiance. Wandering is a prevalent and potentially life-threatening problem, but you have more control over this danger to your loved ones than you might realize.
Here are some effective ways to prevent wandering:
- Install locks and alarms on access doors and windows. Placing the locks in unusual spots like the bottom of a door will make it more difficult for the patient to get past them. Inexpensive alarms can be purchased from hardware or home stores.
- Use motion detectors to let you know when the person is roaming around the house, especially at night.
- Inform area neighbors and businesses of the person’s condition.
- Keep an updated photo (both full-length and close-up) to help police and local residents and businesses identify the wanderer.
- Keep track of what the person is wearing daily, which is also important to aid in identification.
- Make sure the person is wearing identification, and consider dressing them in bright clothes for easier spotting.
- Place dark-colored mats in front of entryways. Depth perception problems, quite common in AD patients, cause the person to see this like a hole and they will avoid stepping on it.
- Keep car keys inaccessible
Prevent wandering at night:
- Keep the person awake for most of the day to facilitate better sleep at night.
- Use shades to block out the early morning sun.
- Keep the bedroom temperature comfortable.
- Avoid providing liquids and heavy or large meals in the evening before bed.
Programs to help:
- SafetyNet by LoJack is a program that tracks wanderers with a bracelet or anklet using radio signals and also enlists law enforcement to bring them home. Visit www.lojack.com.
- Consider signing up for the Safe Return Program through the Alzheimer’s Association. For a sign-up fee of $55 including shipping (and an annual fee of $25), the AA creates a file with the patient’s photo, medical status, and contact numbers. The patient receives an ID bracelet or pendant. This program coordinates with local law enforcement when a member goes missing, much like the Amber Alert system for missing children. Its reported results make it a very valuable resource: enrollees in the Safe Return Program are located within the first 24 hours 99% of the time. You can register online at www.alz.org or call 1-888-572-8566.
Helping you through the process
Oasis Senior Advisors can provide you with support and guidance when you feel it’s time for your loved one to move to assisted living. We offer resources for seniors and their families, so you can feel confident in your senior housing selection.