How to Prevent Dementia Wandering
One of the biggest worries families caring for a loved one with dementia face is the risk of wandering. It is unfortunately very common and can happen at any time in the disease progression – even if they’ve never done it before.
Individuals with dementia may wander at any time of day, regardless of weather conditions. They may not think to dress appropriately for weather conditions, and they can quickly become lost or confused, putting themselves at risk of an accident or injury.
While families can’t watch their loved one every second of the day, they can take steps to prevent dementia wandering. Below are a few ways to protect your loved one and prevent dementia wandering.
Install alarms and locks.
It is important that all exterior doors and windows have locks and alarms installed to prevent dementia wandering. While you should keep fire safety in mind and have a plan to get your loved one out of the house in case of an emergency, doors and windows should be difficult for them to open.
Doors and windows can have alarms added to alert you if they are opened. There are also mats that can be added to key locations in the home – like near their bed or bedroom door – to alert you if your loved one gets up in the middle of the night.
In addition, you can add door knob covers and an additional lock at the top or bottom of the door frame, making it more difficult for them to open the door on their own.
Prepare your home.
When caring for a loved one with dementia, it is important to make sure it is easy for them to find the doors to rooms they need to use and difficult for them to find the doors they shouldn’t be using.
Sometimes individuals with dementia will wander from home because they are having trouble finding a room within the home. Make it easier for them by adding signs to doors that lead to the kitchen, the bathroom, and their bedroom. Keep hallways well lit and consider leaving the bathroom light on at night.
Conversely, you can prevent dementia wandering by making it harder to find exterior doors. Block exterior doors with a large folding screen or install a floor-to-ceiling curtain so the door is not visible to them. You can also mark exterior doors with signs saying “stop” or “do not enter” to discourage use.
You should also hide car keys, wallets, and purses to make it more difficult for them to have the means to access transportation outside the home if they find a way to leave without detection.
Address the causes of wandering.
If your loved one with dementia is already starting to wander, you may be able to address their concerns ahead of time to prevent this. People with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia may wander for several reasons. Some of the main ones include:
- Following old routines – They may leave the house trying to get to work or run errands like they used to do.
- Searching for someone or something – This is particularly common if they frequently ask to go home (even if they already are home) or if they talk about missing someone (even if that person regularly spends time with them).
- Stress or fear – Faced with a stressful, confusing or over-stimulating environment or situation, they may wander trying to escape the situation.
- Boredom – They may leave looking for something interesting to do.
- Trying to meet basic needs – They may wander because they are looking for food or a bathroom or even a particular tool that they think they need.
If your loved one is trying to meet a basic need, work to make it easier to find the things they need like leaving out healthy snacks for when they get hungry or favorite items that provide comfort. Prevent boredom by finding meaningful activities for your loved one to do inside the home like a hobby or a craft. Try to maintain a stress-free environment for your loved one without too much noise to help keep them calm.
If your loved one talks about needing to go somewhere or find someone, find ways to reassure them that they don’t need to go. You can tell them the office is closed for the day or tell them that the person they are looking for is on vacation. Then distract them with a new activity to break the cycle of questions.
Prepare to get them home safely.
If your loved one does leave the home, planning ahead can help you find them and get them home safe.
There are GPS tracking devices that can be worn as a watch, a bracelet, or a necklace. There are others that can be clipped to clothing or hidden in a shoe insole.
The Alzheimer’s Association offers a MedicAlert Safe Return program that you can enroll your loved one in. It features a wearable ID bracelet or accessory that can help first responders get in touch with you right away. If you notify MedicAlert that your loved one is missing, they will help coordinate a search with local authorities.
Many communities now also have a Silver Alert program to send out notifications to local media and traffic signs with key information to help find missing seniors. Take photos often, so you always have a current photo ready to share in an emergency.
Crossroads Hospice & Palliative Care provides support to patients and families facing serious and terminal illness. To learn more about our services, please call 1-888-564-3405.
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