Wandering is a common symptom of Alzheimer’s disease. More than 60% of memory loss patients wander at some point during the course of their illness. A man at the memory care facility where my husband lived used to scale a 10-foot wall. Luckily, staff personnel were able to find him before he was harmed. But that is not always the case.
A neighbor of mine had the tragic experience of having her husband take the car keys, drive off to another state, and disappear. The car was found and he was not.
Who is at risk? Anyone with Alzheimer’s or dementia and is mobile is at risk for wandering.
Also, individuals who:
- Live in a memory care home and want to go home or are waiting for a loved one to pick them up.
- Live at home yet repeatedly say, “I want to go home.”
- Come home from a walk around the neighborhood or a drive later than usual.
- Don’t remember how to get to a familiar location.
- Are nervous, anxious or disoriented when out in public , i.e. restaurant, grocery store, etc.
- Pace or repeatedly try to find things or familiar rooms in a house.
- Ask the whereabouts of friends and family.
- Seem busily occupied but in actuality don’t get anything done, such as moving dirt around without planting or watering, or shoveling snow but not clearing off the sidewalk or driveway.
Ways to prevent wandering
- If you care for your loved one at home, put the car keys in a secure place where only able, designated drivers have access to them.
- Hang bells on the doorknobs of exterior doors to alert you when a door is opened.
- Install new locks on the doors and windows that your loved one cannot open.
- Remove items from sight such as shoes, hats, gloves, umbrellas, etc. that your loved one might associate with going outside.
- Put a black rug in front of the door. To some people with dementia, this looks like a hole, which they will not cross.
- Put a large sign on the inside of the exit door that says, “Stop” or “Do Not Enter.”
- Do not argue with your loved one if he or she insists on going outside. Instead, walk with him or her down the hall, or redirect their attention to an activity. Mentioning the word “ice cream” often works like magic.
- Avoid going to crowded places such as shopping malls.
Make a plan
- Keep a list of places where your loved one might wander such as a past job location, previous home, restaurant, library, etc.
- Alert your neighbors to the situation at home, and make sure they phone you if they see him or her unaccompanied outside.
- Be aware if the person is left or right-handed because wandering usually follows the direction of the dominant hand.
- Put a close-up photo and medical information in an easy-to-find location to give to the police.
- Search the immediate area that the person has wandered off to for no more than 15 minutes. Then call “911” to report to the police that a person with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia —also referred to as a “vulnerable adult”–is missing. A Missing Report should be filed. Then the police will begin to search for the person.
- Many local police departments have a Project Lifesaver GPS bracelet or Safe Return® bracelet that can track an Alzheimer’s patient.
- The Alzheimer’s Association offers MedicAlert® + Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return®, a 24-hour nationwide emergency response service for individuals with Alzheimer’s or a related dementia who wander or have a medical emergency.
How it works
- If an individual with Alzheimer’s or a related dementia wanders and becomes lost, caregivers can call the 24-hour emergency response line (1.800.625.3780) to report it.
- A community support network will be activated, including local Alzheimer Association chapters and law enforcement agencies, to help reunite the person who wandered with the caregiver or a family member. With this service, critical medical information will be provided to emergency responders when needed.
- If a citizen or emergency personnel finds the person with dementia, they can call the toll-free number listed on the person’s MedicAlert + Safe Return ID jewelry. MedicAlert + Safe Return will notify the listed contacts, making sure the person is returned home.
Most importantly, stay calm and don’t panic. 94% of people who wander are found within 1.5 miles of where they disappeared. But it is important to begin the search and rescue efforts immediately.
Remember this: Prevent the danger that has not come. Be prepared.
For more great information about how you can reduce stress, feel happier, more energetic, healthier, deal with issues of grief and depression, and ultimately experience inner peace, read Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s and Dementia. Available on Amazon and at all bookstores that sell quality books.