There are many challenges that come with Alzheimer’s disease, and wandering is one of the most disconcerting for families and caregivers. When loss of memory and the resulting confusion sets in, those with Alzheimer’s may find themselves lost and unable to find or receive help, even if the surroundings were at one time familiar.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 60 percent of people with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia will wander. If they are not found within 24 hours, the unfortunate reality is that as many as half will suffer serious injury or death.
Wandering can occur at any stage of dementia. However, there are five major reasons a person with Alzheimer’s may stray:
- Stress or fear, perhaps as a reaction to an unfamiliar or overly stimulating environment;
- Searching for something or someone;
- An attempt to meet basic needs such as finding a bathroom or food;
- Following past routines, such as going to work or the store;
So, what can a family do to keep a wandering person safe? Here are some suggestions:
- Ensure the person with Alzheimer’s carries identification or wears a medical bracelet.
- Inform area police and neighbors that the loved one is prone to wander.
- Keep recent photos or videos on hand in case they are needed to help in a search.
- Lock outside doors, install a chime that sounds whenever one of these doors is opened.
In addition, the Alzheimer’s Association recommends that caregivers can encourage movement and exercise to reduce anxiety, ensure basic needs are met, and reassure the one who feels lost, disoriented or abandoned. It may not be possible to completely prevent their loved ones with dementia from wandering, but much can be done to help keep them safe.
One way to help those prone to wandering is to hire a trained caregiver experienced with dementia to be there with the person when family members cannot. A professional caregiver knows how to reassure them if they become anxious or confused, can prepare meals or snacks, make sure they are drinking enough water, assist with toileting, and provide companionship.
The Alzheimer’s Association also encourages families coping with wandering loved ones to enroll in the nationwide identification program MedicAlert + Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return® (www.alz.org or (888) 572-8566). For more information: http://www.alz.org/norcal/in_my_community_18411.asp