6 Ways to Manage Alzheimer’s, Dementia and Wandering
Posted on March 26, 2014 by Katy Miller
Older adults with memory impairments such as Alzheimer’s or other form of dementia frequently get confused about where they are, what day it is and what time it is. This can often cause them to wander from their home and quickly fall into a dangerous situation. Considering that six in every 10 people with memory impairments will engage in wandering, it’s very important to spot the early warning signs and take steps to prevent this perilous behavior.
First, the early warning signs.
It’s important to take note of even the slightest indication of the following behaviors. It’s highly likely that if your mom or dad has engaged in them, a larger incident is imminent.
Has your dad forgotten something that he could easily recall before? For example, if he begins to forget where rooms in his house are located (bathrooms, kitchen, etc.), that is a sure sign he may escalate this behavior and leave the house.
If your mom paces, engages in repetitive behavior or talks about “going home” when she is already home, be on the lookout for elevated wandering conduct.
Another sign is appearing busy, but never accomplishing anything. For example, your mom or dad may say they are cleaning the kitchen, but as you watch them, you can see that they are just moving items around on the counter without actually putting anything away or cleaning the room.
These behaviors may seem harmless and it may be your first reaction to let them go. However, they are indicators that a person with memory impairment is on the verge of wandering outside the home. Frequently, when a person with Alzheimer’s or other form of dementia wanders, they also forget key pieces of information, such as their name, address and phone number that could assist others in returning them safely to their home.
Okay, so what can you do to prevent wandering? Here are six helpful tips:
1. Establish a routine.
Doing the same thing, at the same time every day, will help your family member feel safe and secure. Many times, older adults wander because they feel uneasy about what’s going on around them. Spending time to establish a routine will prevent this.
2. Talk about what makes them happy.
Target the time of day when wandering occurs and typical triggers that seem to cause the behavior. If there are particular things that happen that cause anxiety for your mom or dad, take a few minutes to talk with them about what makes them happy. More often than not, this involves a memory from a long time ago – recalling something as simple as baking cookies with their grandmother, or playing baseball with their friends, will give them a sense of relief.
3. Do not correct them.
If your family member says she wants to go home, reassure them that she is safe and you will stay with her as long as she feels worried. Do not say, “We’re already home.” Instead say, “We’re safe right here and I’ll be with you all day.”
4. Avoid crowds.
This may sound funny at first, but if you consider the sensory overload that tends to occur in large crowds, this is a recipe for confusion and disorientation. It’s best to stick to the routine you have established as closely as possible. Variation will cause tension and anxiety, which leads to wandering behavior.
5. Use security measures in the home.
Certainly, you do not want your family member’s home to become a prison; however, putting locks or tamper-proofing measures in place may give you the extra few minutes you need to stop her from wandering. Along these same lines, you can also install a notification system that alerts you when a door or window has been opened.
6. Keep the keys hidden.
Remember that wandering doesn’t just include walking on foot. A person with access to a vehicle can be much more dangerous than one on foot. It’s best to keep car keys out of sight.
With any of these solutions comes the responsibility to never leave a person with memory impairment alone. Even in the earliest stages of the disease, he or she can sustain a life-threatening injury if they are left on their own for an extended period of time. So, it’s best to provide 24-hour monitoring. Even at night, if a person with memory impairment gets up to go to the bathroom, they may forget what they were doing and wander out of the house.
This can become overwhelming very quickly, so there is absolutely no shame in asking for help.