According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 6 in 10 people suffering from dementia will wander, reporting that “anyone who has memory problems and is able to walk is at risk for wandering.” This is a common symptom that arises as the disease progresses.
The Warning Signs
As a caregiver, wandering is one of the most difficult challenges we face when trying to keep our loved ones safe. The Alzheimer’s Association provides a list of a few important warning signs that the act of wandering may become a danger to your loved one. It’s time to make a plan if your loved one:
- Returns from a regular walk or drive later than usual
- Forgets how to get to/from familiar places
- Talks about fulfilling past obligations (IE: going to work)
- Tries or wants to “go home,” even when they’re already home
- Is restless, paces or makes repetitive movements
- Has difficulty locating familiar places like the bathroom, bedroom or kitchen
- Asks the whereabouts of past friends and family
- Acts as if doing a hobby or chore, but nothing gets done (IE: moves around dishes in sink without actually washing them)
- Acts nervous or anxious in crowded areas, such as shopping malls or restaurants
Tips to Prevent Wandering
Once you’ve identified that your loved one may be at risk for wandering, now it’s time to take the proper steps to prevent it. Consider the following strategies to help lower the chances:
- Have a routine – carrying out daily activities can provide structure to your loved one’s day.
- Plan activities – scheduling them during the most likely times for wandering is advised.
- Exercise – making time for exercise can reduce anxiety, agitation and restlessness.
- Reassurance – helpful if your loved one feels lost, abandoned or disoriented.
- Ensure all basic daily human needs are met – eating, drinking, using the bathroom, etc.
- Avoid busy places – such places are confusing and can cause disorientation.
- Place locks out of their line of sight – ensuring they cannot tamper with them.
- Utilize smart devices – signaling when a door or window is opened or detects location.
- Take away the car keys – they may not remember that they’re not supposed to drive.
- Never leave them unattended or unsupervised – especially in a new place.
Make a plan
Wandering can truly happen to anyone at any time, even if you consider yourself the most diligent of caregivers. Don’t beat yourself up if it happens to you, just have a plan in place in case of such an emergency. An example of an emergency plan is below:
- Begin search-and-rescue efforts immediately. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 94% of people who wander are found within 1.5 miles of where they disappeared.
- Keep a list of people to call on for help. Ask neighbors, friends and family to call if they see the person alone.
- Have a recent, close-up photo and updated medical information on hand to give to police when necessary.
- Identify dangerous areas near their home and check them immediately (IE: bodies of water, open stairwells, dense foliage, tunnels, bus stops and busy roads)
- Know whether the individual is right or left-handed – studies showwandering generally follows the direction of the dominant hand.
- Keep a list of places where your loved one enjoys spending time or remembers well (former homes or jobs, places of worship or a favorite restaurant)
- Provide the person with ID jewelry or a smart watch with location detection
Please note: The Alzheimer’s Association recommends that “if the person does wander, search the immediate area for no more than 15 minutes. Call “911” and report to the police that a person with Alzheimer’s disease — a “vulnerable adult” — is missing. A Missing Report should be filed and the police will begin to search for the individual. Then continue with your own personal search”.
Utilizing Smart Technology for those at Risk
There has been so much evolving technology in wearable tracking devices over the last decade. Such technology can be used for alerting the caregiver by tracking the wearer. Wearable devices balance the constant juggle of giving your loved one a sense of independence while also keeping them safe.
Below are a list of a few known wearable tracking devices and their features recommended by Alzheimer’s.net:
- PAL from Project Lifesaver – looks like a normal wristwatch tracking the wearer’s location allowing a caregiver to call the agency to dispatch a trained team.
- GPS Smart Sole – a wearable device inserted into a shoe, which offers a level of discreetness if the wearer is combative.
- iTraqTag – also inconspicuous and can fit in a wallet or jacket pocket. It uses cell phone towers to triangulate a position, and can be used anywhere in the world.
- Mindme – a pendant worn in a pocket or bag with a radius alert system.
- MedicAlert Safely Home – a bracelet with engraved medical information and tracking features managed by a hotline number.
- PocketFinder – small tracking device that can fit in the palm of your hand and managed with a tracking app.
- Safe Link – a wearable device that periodically sends its geographic coordinates to central servers and caregivers can view the wearer’s location via website.
- Trax – one of the smallest GPS trackers that can send position, speed, and direction through the cellular network directly to your app on a smartphone and features can be adjusted in real time.
- Revolutionary Tracker – a GPS style real time tracker that allows multiple seniors to be tracked at the same time with a built in SOS button for emergencies.
- AngelSense– a truly comprehensive device with real time tracking, geographical zones, listening/speaking options, calendar alerts and more.
Unfortunately, even with all these options, there is no technology today that can prevent someone from wandering and no such technology can replace one-on-one care. But this technology does offer caregivers some peace of mind to know where their loved ones are and confirm efforts are being made to keep them safe.
Often times, the most peace of mind for caregivers comes from a combination of smart devices and the more traditional one-on-one home health care. If you or someone you know could benefit from some extra one-on-one care in the home, please give us a call today and speak to one of our customer care coordinators 866-720-0124. Or visit our website for a complimentary Home Health Care Starter Guide.