Wandering is dangerous. And it's common among seniors with dementia and Alzheimer's Disease. The Alzheimer's Association says six in ten dementia patients will wander.
The staff at Weatherly Inn understands your concerns about wandering and "sundowning." We've created this blog to give caregivers practical tips for providing their loved ones with safe dementia care. We'll cover six simple ways to prevent seniors with dementia from wandering. Remember, if you need professional care for a family member with dementia or Alzheimer's, we're here to help.
Make Your Home Escape-Proof
Even seniors with very mild memory loss or dementia are prone to wandering. If you're a new caregiver who has recently brought an older adult home to live with you, or your spouse has dementia, start by making your own home "escape-proof."
Simple Ideas to "Escape-Proof" Your Home and Yard
Consider these ideas:
- Install a security system. You could choose a professionally monitored system like ADT and SimpliSafe, or choose a DIY security system like COVE. You'll sleep better and feel safer at home. You'll also be able to keep a close watch on your elderly loved one. If they DO make it out to wander, you'll be able to describe what they're wearing and what time they left home if you need to contact law enforcement.
- Install simple locks high on exterior doors, well above eye level. You may want to install a deadbolt lock on the front door that has to be unlocked with a key from the inside, rather than a knob that can be easily turned.
- Make use of fencing if you have it. You can get creative and make a more challenging front gate by adding an extra slide bar.
Another way to prevent seniors with dementia from wandering is to keep the keys tucked away.
Keep Car and House Keys Hidden
Make sure seniors with dementia can never get their hands on the keys to your home or car! We've mentioned this elsewhere in our blogs, but it's important to remember that aging adults with dementia can make poor choices behind the wheel and put others at risk. It could become a real disaster if your family member were to get in an accident and hurt themselves or someone else.
You May Need to Change Your Habits
- If your family habit is to leave keyrings in a dish near the door or hang on a nearby hook, you'll need to change this habit.
- If you have many vehicles or many sets of car keys to manage, you could try cleaning out a lower drawer of a bedroom nightstand, or putting them in a plastic bin above your refrigerator, for example.
- The idea is to keep them out of plain sight.
To best keep seniors with dementia from wandering, it helps to understand their motivation.
Remind Them They're Safe: Place Visual Reminders Throughout the Home
Know that dementia and Alzheimer's Disease are progressive. Your loved one might seem fine this month but experience more challenging episodes next month. Their levels of disorientation will gradually increase. Sometimes our older family members forget where they are or become afraid. They may become agitated, even combative! To offset this, you can add reminders throughout the home to help spark their memory and let them know these are familiar places.
- Add extra photos of your loved one and your family throughout the home, so they'll know they're in a place where they are loved and safe.
- Include their names on decor or home items, like "Nanna's special chair" or "Betty's Favorite Mug."
- Print out large "Stop" signs or "Do Not Enter" signs and display them at the entrances to off-limit areas.
Remember, over time, your family member will become more forgetful, confused, and difficult to soothe. This doesn't mean you're a lousy caregiver or that you've made mistakes in caregiving. It's the progression of the disease.
Take Advantage of Tech: Use a GPS Device to Never Lose Track of Loves Ones
Alzheimers.net published this great list of ten lifesaving location devices for seniors with dementia. They all use the same technology concepts to track your family member in different ways. Some are jewelry. Others can be placed in your family member's shoe soles. These wearable tracking devices can report your family member's location via text or GPS.
And since we're on the topic, it's a good idea to make sure your family member has an ID bracelet, like MedicAlert, which will share their contact information and medical information in case of emergency. ID bracelets have come a long way, and the styles and options are endless!
Another good way to prevent wandering is to allow your family member to exercise and feel active outdoors during the day.
Give Them Some Room to Wander
Your Family Member Once Had a Vibrant, Active Lifestyle
Remember that your loved one lived a socially-rich and busy life before their dementia diagnosis. Perhaps they got up early every morning to work at a factory for thirty years or attended worship services and bingo every week at the same church for decades. Those patterns of activity are deeply ingrained!
If you are doing home care for your loved one, you may try a proactive approach to preventing wandering. Start by giving your family member some time outside every day to "wander" by taking them for walks or letting them explore a fenced-in backyard. The fresh air and sunshine will do wonders for their mood and appetite, too. Senior nutrition plays a crucial role in their cognitive function and ability to fight infection.
Notify Neighbors and Authorities Ahead of Time
It's a good idea to let neighbors know that you're taking care of someone with dementia. If social distancing or isolation orders are in effect, you can always mail them a little envelope containing a recent photo of your family member and your phone number. However, use your best judgment. If you're not comfortable giving this information to a certain person or household, trust your gut.
Alert Local Authorities Too
See if your local police or mental health resource office has a registry for dementia patients. This way, if they do get out, they are listed as at-risk and first responders will act faster to find them. You can also register your loved ones using the Alzheimer's Association Safe Return Program. This is a partnership with MedicAlert, that provides 24/7 support when someone with dementia wanders off and needs locating.
There are many forms of dementia, but one thing is true: the individual requires constant care and attention. No matter how many precautions you take to prevent wandering, the truth is that there are only so many safety measures you can put in place at home. If you're wondering if it's time to seek professional care for your loved one, read our guide to knowing when memory care is necessary. Then contact us for a virtual tour of our memory care communities. We'd love to give you a no-pressure, no-cost consultation.