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Alzheimer’s and Dementia Wandering

When someone is diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, they may begin to wander off at any time. This can obviously be dangerous and result in tragic consequences. According the Alzheimer’s Association, six in ten people with dementia will wander off. This is extremely dangerous because the person may not remember where they are, their name, or any of their contact information.

If someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s is mobile, there is a risk they can wander off at any time, which is a scary thought. There are warning signs to look out for as well as ways to try to prevent this from happening.

Warning Signs

Wandering and getting lost can happen to any dementia or Alzheimer’s patient during any stage of their illness. Here are some signs to look out for that your loved one may be prone to wandering:

  • Forgets to get to places they’ve always known
  • Returns from a routine walk or drive later than usual
  • Is extremely restless or paces a lot
  • Acts nervous and anxious in crowds

While these signs may all not indicate someone is going to walk off, they are good indicators that there is a great risk. When you start noticing these signs, keep an extra eye on your loved one and be sure to alert their doctor.

Why Do Patients Wander

In order to try to help dementia and Alzheimer’s patients, you need to understand some of the reasons why they may be wandering. Here are four typical explanations.

  • Patterns. You want to look for patterns associated with wandering. Many times patients will try to leave when they know it used to be time to do something or go somewhere. For example, you may notice someone trying to leave in the morning around the time they used to go to work. If there are memory issues they may forget they no longer go to work, but may think they still need to go, so they leave.
  • Confusion. It’s very simple to understand how someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia can become confused. They may forget where they are or think they have to be somewhere else.
  • Compulsive Behavior. Some seniors with memory problems may have obsessive compulsive behavior which makes them feel as though they need to just be somewhere else for no real reason. The urge can be so undeniable, practically forcing them to wander off.
  • Believing they need to “go home”. Although seniors may in fact be home, they may feel like they are not at home at all. This feeling can prompt them to wander off to try to find this place they believe is their home.

Tips to Prevent Wandering

While you may not be able to keep an eye on your loved one at all hours of the day, there are other things you can do to prevent them from wandering and getting into a dangerous situation.

  • Have a routine. Creating a daily schedule provides a routine and structure. This may help prevent someone from wandering off if they there is a list of things that need to be done at a certain time or places to go.
  • Plan activities around times of restlessness. If a dementia or Alzheimer’s patient is feeling restless or agitated, he or she may be more likely to wander off. If you can identify these times and schedule activities, you can reduce the amount of restlessness and the possibility of wandering off.
  • Avoid busy places. Busy shopping malls or other areas can prove to be confusing and disorientating for people with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Avoid these types of places when they are likely to be at their peak. Try to only visit them when you assume there won’t be large crowds.

Safety Precautions for Wandering Patients

If you are caring for someone at home who is prone to wandering, you should take certain safety precautions. Here are several things you may want to consider:

  • Take car keys away. If the person at risk for wandering off is still driving it may be a good time to take away the keys. If the person is no longer driving you’ll want to keep any car keys out of sight. He or she may forget they no longer drive and take the keys to try to get in the car. Remember, wandering can also happen by car.
  • Move locks. Having locks that are easily accessible allows someone to leave the home at any time. If possible move locks to the top or extreme bottom of the door where they may not be so easy to get to.
  • Add bells when doors open. If locks cannot be moved (even if they can) you may want to install a bell or other signal that sounds if a door is opened. This way you’ll know if someone has opened the door and may wander off.
  • Supervision. If a dementia or Alzheimer’s patient is being cared for at home you may want to look into having an aid or other caregiver home at all times. Constant supervision may be necessary if wandering is a problem or when the patient’s condition begins to deteriorate.

Due to the fact that many seniors have a tendency to wander off, many states now issue Silver Alerts. This is similar to the Amber Alert system used to find missing children.

When a senior is missing, family members will contact the authorities who may decide to issue a Silver Alert to track down the missing person. According to the National Association of States United for Aging and Disabilities (NASAUD), there are 32 states that have programs in place to identify missing seniors.

While dementia and Alzheimer’s patients may begin to wander at some point, the behavior may not last forever. Some people do it for a few months or a year and then stop. There is no set pattern for this behavior that fits all patients which can make it even more difficult to handle.

The main objective is to take measures to make the person at risk of wandering as safe as possible.

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