Part of the job of preventing wandering is to try to identify
the reasons why an individual may want to wander. Some common reasons for wandering
Confusion. The patient doesn’t realize
that he is at home and sets out to “find”
Delusions. The patient may be trying to
fulfill a responsibility from the long-ago
past, such as going to work or searching
for a child
Escape from a real or perceived threat
A patient can be frightened by noise, a
strange visitor, or even the belief that her
caregiver is trying to hurt her
Restlessness brought on by a lack of
exercise and other stimulation.
Searching for a person, a place, or a
personal item that was lost
They also may be trying to fulfill a
physical need—thirst, hunger, a need to use the toilet or exercise
Discovering the triggers for wandering are not always easy, but they can
provide insights to dealing with the behavior.
- Make time for regular exercise to minimize restlessness
- Giving your loved one a safe, uncluttered space to pace in. Eliminate rugs
and obstacles that the patient could trip on, and allow him to pace
- Consider installing new locks that
require a key. Position locks high or low on the door; many people with
dementia will not think to look beyond eye level. Keep in mind fire and
safety concerns for all family members; the lock(s) must be accessible
to others and not take more than a few seconds to open
- Try a barrier like a curtain or colored streamer to mask the door. A “stop” sign or “do not enter” sign also may help
- Place a black mat or paint a black space on your front porch; this may appear to be an impassable hole to
the person with dementia
- Add “child-safe” plastic covers to doorknobs
- Consider installing a home security system or monitoring system designed to keep watch over someone with dementia.
Also available are new digital devices that can be worn like a watch or
clipped on a belt that use global positioning systems (GPS) or other
technology to track a person’s whereabouts or locate him if he wanders
- Put away essential items such as the
confused person’s coat, purse or glasses. Some individuals will not go
out without certain articles
- Have your relative wear an ID
bracelet and sew ID labels in their clothes. Always have a current photo
available should you need to report your loved one missing. Consider
leaving a copy on file at the police department or registering the
person with the Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return program
- Tell neighbors about your relative’s wandering behavior and make sure they have your phone number
- You can also paint doors to the outside the same color as the wall so it blends in and your relative does not realize it is a door.
- You can also have a mural painted, or a poster placed on the doors to the outside that look like a bookcase with books, so your loved one does not realize it is a door.
If a Person Is Missing
Even if you’ve taken all the above precautions, there is still a possibility that, at some time, your loved one will manage to slip away unnoticed. She may have gone on foot or by other modes of transportation.
If this happens, there are several things you should be prepared to do to find her as quickly as possible. These include:
• Notifying the police. Call 911 or your community’s equivalent. A missing Alzheimer’s patient should always be treated as an emergency.
• Having several copies of a recent, close-up photograph of the person to give to police, neighbors, and anyone else who might be searching for him.
• Keeping a list (several copies) with your loved one’s age, sex, height, weight, and other physical features, along with his blood type, health conditions, medications, dental work, dietary needs, and other pertinent information to share with search personnel.
• Providing an unwashed article of clothing that has been worn by the patient and kept in a plastic bag to assist police dogs in the search for your loved one. Using plastic gloves to avoid adding your own scent, replace the clothing item every month to keep the scent strong.
• Having a list of dangerous places in your neighborhood that should be searched first, such as busy crossroads, bridges, creeks, overpasses, drainage ditches, or steep terrain.
• Providing a list of places where the person likes to go, such as a shopping center, place of worship, or park.
Remember that the more people you inform about your loved one’s condition and tendency to wander, the more help you can enlist in preventing him from getting lost.
People with Alzheimer's disease will tend to turn in
the direction of their dominant hand, so if your loved one with Alzheimer's does get
out, turn in that direction to begin your search.
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