Are you afraid to go to sleep at night because mom or dad might wander alone outside? Are you scared to go to the store with your autistic child because they might run off in a split second? One of the biggest concerns of caregivers who care for people with cognitive problems is how to prevent them from wandering. Wandering is a risk associated with many conditions, such as Autism, Down Syndrome, and the most common of them being dementia (which can result from Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, head injuries, and Parkinson’s disease). Diseases like dementia rob the person of the ability to recognize familiar places, faces, and understand certain situations. They may come to a point where they cannot even remember their own name, or the need to eat, and some even lose the ability to speak. Everything around them confuses them, even in every day routine surroundings and, therefore, to regain control of their situation, they go in search of something reassuring- a behavior called “wandering”. This situation can be extremely dangerous if a loved one wanders on a busy street or is not dressed appropriately for extreme weather temperatures. No one can watch another person every second of every day, but the following tips can help caregivers reduce the risk of wandering.
Secure your home. Do what you can to make your home safe and secure. Place locks on doors and windows out of the normal line of vision and that can’t be unlocked easily. Depending on your situation, you may also need to install bars on windows. Place locks on gates, fence in the patio or yard, install alarms or chimes on doors, or buy motion detectors to alert you when someone opens an outer door. A simpler solution to prevent wandering: Hang bells on the doorknobs.
Make sure the person always carries ID. It won’t prevent wandering, but making sure your loved one has ID at all times is very important. Keep in mind that keeping an ID in a person’s wallet isn’t enough, because they could remove it. Medical ID jewelry like a bracelet or pendant is a good idea. You could also consider sewing identification into your loved one’s jacket.
Dress your loved one in bright clothing. If it’s reasonable and your loved one doesn’t mind, consider dressing them in clothing that’s easy-to-see from a distance. This can be a good way to prevent wandering if you’re planning to be in a crowd.
Put up a fence. It can be expensive, but putting up a fence with secured gates can prevent wandering while allowing your loved one a way to get some fresh air.
Put up signs. Sometimes, just hanging a sign inside a door to the outside that says ''Stop'' or ''Do Not Enter'' can be enough to prevent your loved one from wandering. Use familiar objects, signs and pictures on other doors and night lights to help guide them where they need to go such as the bedroom or bathroom.
Increase movement and exercise. This advice doesn’t apply to everybody, but some experts believe that getting physical activity during the day can help prevent wandering at night. Even a supervised walk around the block before dinner may be enough to reduce nighttime agitation.
Focus on sleep. Some conditions linked with wandering are associated with poor sleep quality. Wandering itself could result from sleeplessness. So do what you can to practice good sleep habits with your loved one. As much as you are able, get them on a regular schedule of going to bed and waking up. To help prevent wandering, reduce napping during the day and cut out caffeinated drinks.
Consider if there’s an underlying cause. In many cases, a loved one’s wandering may not have a reason. But sometimes, caregivers come to understand that there’s a motive behind it and figure out ways to prevent wandering. If a parent with dementia becomes agitated and wanders at night, maybe it’s initially triggered by something simple such as being thirsty or hungry. Leaving a glass of water or a few crackers by the bed could help. A child with autism might have a fixation with certain sounds or objects and tend to wander off to investigate them. If you can predict what will attract his/her attention, you may be able to avoid situations in which wandering is a real risk.
Communicate. Regularly remind and reassure your loved one with Alzheimer’s that he/she is in the right place, and is safe. Introduce your loved one to your neighbors so they get to know their face. Tell them that your loved one is prone to wandering and that they should let you know if they see him/her out alone. Give neighbors a number where you can be reached. Let them know the seriousness of the situation if your loved one is out alone as many people are naturally inclined not to get involved. Some police departments will keep a photo and fingerprints of people with Alzheimer’s on file. Have the following information ready in case of an emergency; the person’s age, hair and eye color, identifying marks, blood type, medical conditions, medications, dental work, allergies, and jewelry.
Be Prepared for Other Modes of Wandering. Although most wandering takes place on foot, some people with Alzheimer’s have been known to drive hundreds of miles. Prevent this problem by keeping keys out of sight, or disabling the vehicle.
Keep easy to eat snacks and water on hand and within view. Often those with Alzheimer’s and related dementia wander because they are looking for something, such as food or water.
Avoid noisy and busy places, such as the mall, that can cause anxiety for someone with Alzheimer’s or related dementia. Often they will try to walk to somewhere that is quieter and has less stimulation that can cause agitation.
If you are not able to keep mom or dad at home and worry they may wander away while you are at work or at the store, then you might want to consider assisted living facilities and skilled nursing facilities that offer Memory Care. In these facilities, there may be aides and registered nurses who are trained to provide care to your loved one with dementia and they also provide a living area that is locked to prevent outside wandering. Recently at Mitchell-Hollingsworth, we have undergone an entire renovation to our facility where we will now be offering Memory Care services and a locked, safe community for your loved one. We now have bed availability and are scheduling tours. If you have any questions about this service or are inquiring for a loved one, please feel free to contact us. Our number is 256-740-5400.