This content is sponsored by Brooke Grove Retirement Village
Wandering out in nature or down the sidewalks of a new city can be an enjoyable pursuit for most of us, but for those with dementia, the term means that they can become “disoriented or lost” even in places that for years had been familiar, the Alzheimer’s Association says.
Three out of five people with memory loss or Alzheimer’s disease will wander, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Leaving a secure environment could leave them open to danger as they cross or approach streets or, particularly during these winter months, they can fall prey to sickness or hypothermia because of low temperatures.
If you care for an aging loved one who is dealing with memory loss, it’s vital to their safety to make a plan to reduce their chances of wandering.
First, it helps to understand some reasons people with dementia may wander. They may react to stress or fear, such as an unfamiliar or noisy environment, by wandering, according to the Mayo Clinic. On the other hand, they may be trying to counteract boredom. They may be searching for something or someone or trying to find food or a bathroom. They also may be thinking of routines they have followed in the past and seeking to get something done they used to do.
Knowing why your loved one tends to wander can help as you put together a plan to reduce the activity. If they tend to want to wander under certain conditions, you can look for that pattern and react accordingly. The Mayo Clinic suggests planning activities to keep them entertained if they seem to be bored. Or if they are searching for someone, post a photo or a sign telling them when that person will next be visiting.
The Alzheimer’s Association recommends making sure your loved one’s basic needs are being met, such as bathroom visits, meals and sufficient water. Activity such as getting up and moving around or mild exercising can help with restlessness. A regular routine can provide structure that can be calming and grounding. Since being in new or busy places can cause anxiety and stress and lead to wandering, it is best to avoid those and stay in quiet and familiar surroundings. If you do need to go somewhere new, be sure to have someone with your loved one.
Reassurance and soothing words can go a long way if a loved one becomes agitated or insistent on leaving. Distraction is also a useful tactic. If they say “I want to go home” or “I need to get to work,” don’t argue — instead distract them. You can say, “OK, let’s go get your shoes,” and they may likely forget what they had wanted to do by the time you help them get the shoes.
Sometimes these kinds of tactics aren’t sufficient, so it’s important to have other levels of protective measures in place. The Mayo Clinic recommends clearing objects out of the way in their living space that could cause falls when they wander in their home like putting in night lights for when it’s dark and installing gates if there are stairs.
Alarms and deadbolts are helpful. Different kinds of alarms can alert you if your loved one is trying to go out such as a bell at the door. The Alzheimer’s Association says deadbolts should be placed either high or low on exterior doors, out of the person’s line of sight. You can use any of a number of available GPS devices to track your loved one if the need arises.
The Mayo Clinic says to tell your neighbors and others you know well to keep an eye out for your loved one. Have a list of emergency phone numbers ready if you can’t find them, as well as a recent photo for identification help.
The Alzheimer’s Association has an identification program called MedicAlert + Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return, a 24-hour emergency response service that can help in the return of those who wander and become lost.
For more information on options and care for loved ones with memory loss and Alzheimer’s, visit bgf.org/memory-support.