Advice on spotting and coping with dementia in your loved one

WASHINGTON — It’s troubling enough to watch an elderly relative fall victim to dementia or Alzheimer’s, but you can get a jump by watching for the early signs. And there’s plenty of advice out there about how to cope with one of the most common symptoms of dementia: wandering.

The Fairfax County Police Department has written a comprehensive list of signs of — and ways to respond to — wandering.

A person with dementia may be at risk for wandering if he or she:

  • Comes back from a regular walk or drive later than usual.
  • Tries to fulfill former obligations, such as going to work.
  • Tries or wants to “go home” even when at home.
  • Is restless, paces or makes repetitive movements.
  • Has a hard time locating familiar places like the bathroom, bedroom or dining room.
  • Acts nervous or anxious in crowded areas, such as shopping malls or restaurants.

If you live with or care for a person with dementia, here are a few tips to help you reduce the risk of wandering:

  • Control access to car keys (a person with dementia may not just wander by foot).
  • Do not leave someone with dementia unsupervised in new surroundings.
  • Move around and exercise to reduce anxiety, agitation and restlessness.
  • Carry out daily activities, such as folding laundry or preparing dinner, to provide daily structure.
  • Reassure the person if he or he feels lost, abandoned or disoriented.
  • Avoid busy places that are confusing and can cause disorientation, such as shopping malls.

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