It can happen at any stage of the disease. Your loved one who suffers with dementia could wander off. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, six out of ten people with dementia will wander. Here’s the kicker, there’s no guarantee that your loved one, won’t wander off, just because they’ve never have before. If they can walk, wandering is always a possibility. Patients have been known to wander far from home, sometimes walking, or even driving away, if their car keys haven’t been confiscated.
Why dementia patients wander
The answer to why patients wander is varied. There isn’t a specific trigger for every wanderer, but there is something that calls to your loved one to get up and out. In their minds, it might be as simple as “going home.” For instance, my mother was certain that if she just walked down the road a little ways from my house, that she would be back in her old neighborhood, her childhood home, and would see her aged parents.
She often decided to “go home”, and in her mind she could get there. She had no understanding of time and space. It didn’t matter that we lived 1000 miles from her hometown. She would be home in a matter of minutes, if she just went for a walk. Also, she was driven by responsibility. She had taken care of her parents in their old age. In her mind, my mother had to get back to care for her own mom and dad, and she would walk there if she had to. She was determined and an attempt at convincing her otherwise, always fell on deaf ears.
Obviously, taking a walk alone or getting behind the wheel of a car is extremely dangerous for one who suffers from any form of dementia. Getting lost can exacerbate the effects of Alzheimer’s disease, which may cause even more confusion and frustration, and have a long-term consequence. Caregivers, in anticipation of a loved-one’s bent toward wandering, should take steps to ensure their safety.
How Alzheimer’s proof is your home?
Your home is the first line of defense. Make it as inconvenient as possible for your loved one to leave the house unnoticed.
Visit your local hardware store to find a simple alarm mechanism that can be easily installed at each door to the outside. Place the alarm in an inconspicuous place along the doorframe. Leave it turned on. The alarm will sound when the door opens and the connection is broken, alerting you to a wandering family member.
Childproof doorknobs are another option for keeping wanderers from leaving without supervision. Additional locks, or locks that are basically camouflaged will help. In other words, place locks in odd places; on the down low, or up high where they’re not expected.
Do not leave car keys out in the open. Out of sight, out of mind.
Enlist trusted neighbors, and neighborhood watch groups.
Outsiders may not know that your family member has Alzheimer’s disease. They don’t interact with them on a daily basis, at least not in the same manner that you do. A neighbor might observe your parent or spouse out for a walk, and think nothing of it. If it “takes a village to raise a child”, it takes that much more to assist a neighbor with a mind-altering disease.
If you are comfortable with your neighbors, then inform them that your loved one should never be out and about alone. Give the neighbor your telephone number, and ask him/her to call you immediately if they see the family member outside alone, especially if they are seen walking away from home. In the same manner, inform your community’s neighborhood watch.
It can be difficult to share with someone outside of the family, that your loved one has dementia. You want to protect their dignity and privacy, but it is best to err on the side of caution, but only if you’re confident of your neighbor’s trustworthiness.
Supervision is crucial
A person in the throes of dementia should never be left unattended. Depending on the stage of Alzheimer’s of your loved one, you may not have to be tied at the hip. However, stay close, and stay aware. Pay strict attention to your loved one’s movements when out at a public event.
While we’ve strongly stressed that dementia and Alzheimer’s patients wander, (six out of ten) we must also stress that locking a loved one inside a room or house unattended is not recommended. In fact, it shouldn’t occur, since it presents additional dangers.
Implementing the practices above will help caregivers keep loved one’s with dementia safe from wandering. However, it is unfortunate that sometimes despite a caregiver’s best efforts, a loved one will wander away. Navigatingalzheimersdisease.com will examine that topic in an upcoming article: “What to Do When an Alzheimer’s Patient Goes Missing”.