Plan ahead for people living with dementia to avoid wandering
Six in 10 people with Alzheimer’s disease will wander. A person living with Alzheimer’s or other dementia may not remember his or her name or address, and can become disoriented, even in familiar places. In cold temperatures and winter weather conditions, wandering, although common, can be dangerous – even life-threatening – and is a significant safety concern.
“As weather becomes colder it is important to keep your loved one with dementia safe by taking simple precautions to prevent wandering, such as motion detectors, window alarms and creating activities in the home that will reduce agitation,” says Linda Altmeyer, Alzheimer’s Association Greater Indiana Chapter Director of Programs.
Tips to Prevent Wandering:
- Carry out daily activities: Having a routine can provide structure. Consider creating a daily plan.
- Avoid busy places: Shopping malls and grocery stores can be confusing causing disorientation.
- Night wandering: Restrict fluids two hours before bedtime and ensure the person has gone to the bathroom just before bed. Also, use night lights throughout the home or facility.
- Locks: Place out of sight. Install slide bolts at the top or bottom of doors.
- Doors and door knobs: Camouflage doors by painting them the same colors as the walls. Cover them with removable curtains or screens. Cover knobs with cloth in the color of the door or use childproof knobs.
- Monitoring devices: Try devices that signal when a door or window is opened. Place a pressure-sensitive mat at the door or bedside to alert of movement.
- Secure trigger items: Some people will not go out without a coat, hat, pocketbook, keys, wallet, etc. Making these items unavailable can prevent wandering.
When weather temperatures plummet and staying indoors is encouraged, planning ahead for your loved one can be crucial for his or her safety. “The Alzheimer’s Association can help with activity suggestions, communication and how to identify confusion and the triggers that increase the incidence of wandering,” says Altmeyer.
- Enroll the person in MedicAlert®+ Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return®. Call 888.572.8566 or enroll online at www.alz.org/safereturn.
- Consider having the person carry or wear an electronic tracking GPS device that helps manage location. Comfort Zone® and Comfort Zone Check-In® are two options. Visit www.alz.org/comfortzone for further information.
- Keep a list of people for the person with dementia to call when feeling overwhelmed. Have their telephone numbers in one location and easily accessible.
- Ask neighbors, friends and family to call if they see the person alone or dressed inappropriately.
- Keep a recent, close-up photo and updated medical information on hand to give to police.
- Know your neighborhood. Pinpoint dangerous areas near the home, such as bodies of water, open stairwells, dense foliage, tunnels, bus stops and roads with heavy traffic.
- Know if the individual is right or left-handed. Wandering generally follows the direction of the dominant hand.
- Keep a list of places where the person may wander, like past jobs, former homes, places of worship or a restaurant.
If the person does wander, search the immediate area for no more than 15 minutes. Call 911 and report that a person with Alzheimer’s disease — a “vulnerable adult” — is missing. A Missing Report will be filed, and the police will begin to search for the individual. In addition, a report should be filed with MedicAlert+ Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return at 800.625.3780. First responders are trained to check with MedicAlert+ Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return when they locate a missing person with dementia. You do not need to be enrolled in MedicAlert+ Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return in order to file a missing report.
For more information, call 800.272.3900 or visit alz.org/Indiana.
About the Alzheimer’s Association:
The Alzheimer’s Association is the world’s leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s care, support and research. It is the largest nonprofit funder of Alzheimer’s research. The Association’s mission is to eliminate Alzheimer’s disease through the advancement of research; to provide and enhance care and support for all affected; and to reduce the risk of dementia through the promotion of brain health. Its vision is a world without Alzheimer’s. Visit alz.org/indiana or call 800.272.3900.