Caregivers understandably panic when someone with Alzheimer’s gets lost, even momentarily. Individuals with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia have an increased propensity to wander, become lost, or feel confused in familiar settings. Therefore, it’s important to take precautions to reduce roaming—and to allow someone who has wandered to be quickly identified and returned home.
Why wandering happens
Wandering occurs in dementia patients for various reasons. The confusion Alzheimer’s causes makes even well-known places seem unfamiliar. Even a familiar home setting could seem different than someone remembers it. Confusion about their whereabouts can lead individuals to wander off in hopes of finding more recognizable surroundings.
Discomfort and anxiety are also known to cause someone with dementia to wander. Too much noise or chaos might create a longing to escape. On the other hand, boredom can have a similar effect.
No matter the reasoning behind someone’s desire to wander, it is essential to have safeguards in place when someone with Alzheimer’s acts on the urge to stray.
Experts recommend that anyone with a memory impairment wear medical identification bracelets or necklaces. More than 95 percent of emergency responders look for a medical ID when coming to someone’s aid. The information listed helps identify caregivers and get lost people home faster.
Another way to help ensure that you’re notified promptly of someone’s wandering is to sew your contact information into the person’s frequently worn clothing. It’s also wise to inform neighbors about the person’s dementia so they can alert you should they see him or her walking alone or away from home.
New developments in technology are providing user-friendly tools that can help maintain the whereabouts of someone with dementia. Door alarms, GPS technology, and smartphone apps offer ways to ensure safety.
Of course, the best approach is to proactively attempt to prevent wandering in the first place.
Stop wandering before it happens
Someone with Alzheimer’s or other form of dementia should never be left alone near unlocked doors. An open door is an invitation to wander.
Installing child-proof locks on doors, gates, and windows is also effective in preventing someone with a memory impairment from leaving. An alternative is to place locks high on the door, where they are out of immediate sight and reach.
Items associated with going away can trigger an urge to wander. It’s best to avoid leaving out purses, keys, coats, and other objects that might signal leaving.
In addition to implementing physical measures, caregivers can take a more personal approach as well. If you notice that someone in your care seems eager to wander, take attention-diverting steps such as putting on music, offering a snack, or engaging the individual in enjoyable activities. You could also ask for help folding clothes, preparing dinner, or completing other mind-occupying tasks.
While nothing can guarantee that those with Alzheimer’s and dementia will never wander, practicing proactive measures helps limit the occurrences. Those under your care will be safer, and you can take solace in knowing that you have measures in place should the person try to stray.