Alzheimer’s is such a complex disease that it can be difficult to focus on all the different ways it affects a loved one’s mind, body and even their lifestyle. Simple things like taking medications and driving pose serious threats to a dementia patient’s safety, and although it’s often overlooked, wandering is another top safety concern for those providing Alzheimer’s care.
So what exactly causes wandering? Due to the thinking and memory problems brought on by Alzheimer’s disease, it can be extremely easy for a dementia patient to become disoriented or confused, even if they are in a familiar place. This disorientation and confusion leads to wandering, which can happen at any stage at the disease.
According to the most recent Alzheimer’s research, six out of every ten people with dementia will wander, making it essential that you know the warning signs so you can take the necessary steps to prevent a loved one from wandering.
The Risk of Wandering Off
Like many of the other effects of Alzheimer's disease, wandering is a serious threat to a dementia patient’s health and safety. Due to weather, traffic and other various dangers, the Alzheimer’s Association estimates that up to 50 percent of individuals suffer either a serious injury or death if they are not found within 24 hours. That’s why it’s essential that you are aware of the common warning signs that a loved one may be susceptible to wandering off:
- Returning from a walk or drive later than usual
- Trying to complete tasks they don’t have to do anymore, like going to work
- Saying they want to “go home,” even when they’re already there
- Restlessness, pacing or making repetitive movements
- Having difficulty finding the bedroom, bathroom, kitchen or other common places they should be familiar with
- Asking where current or past loved ones are
- Acting as if they’re doing a hobby or chore without actually doing it
- Being anxious or nervous in crowded or changed environments
Should you notice one or more of these warning signs, your loved one is at risk of wandering and might already be experiencing it. Even if they were just recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, now is the time to proactively prepare for this type of situation.
Keeping Dementia Patients Safe
Being uncertain of a loved one’s location is one of the most stressful and terrifying things you may experience while providing Alzheimer’s care, but having an emergency plan in place before your loved one wanders off will greatly decrease the anxiety you feel. If your loved one suffers from dementia, these steps will ensure their safety and prevent them from wandering off:
Follow a daily routine.
Give structure to your loved one’s day by creating a plan or a list of activities to complete every day. This list could include simple activities like folding laundry, cleaning dishes and exercising. Alzheimer’s research shows that exercise is actually very beneficial for dementia patients because it helps reduce restlessness, agitation and anxiety. If you begin to notice a pattern of when your loved one is most likely to wander off, be sure to plan activities at those times.
When creating a list of daily activities, however, it’s best to avoid visiting any confusing environments like grocery stores or shopping malls. Although these kinds of places may seem like a great way to get out of the house and spend time with your loved one, they will most likely disorient them and increase their risk of wandering off.
Meet all of their basic needs.
Approximately 1.5 million seniors nationwide need assistance completing activities of daily living, such as dressing, eating, bathing and toileting, and these tasks become more difficult for someone after they’ve been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
To keep your loved one healthy and safe, ensure that all of these basic needs are met every day. If your loved one has a tendency to wander at night, restrict the amount of fluids they drink approximately two hours before they go to bed, and insist that they use the bathroom right before they go to sleep. It’s also a good idea to install nightlights to prevent accidents in the home should they wander at night.
Install door alarms for dementia patients.
A common recommendation is placing deadbolts on doors to prevent wandering, but these may not keep your loved one safe in all emergencies. For instance, your loved one may not be able to safely escape their home in a house fire if the deadbolts are hard to reach or maneuver. That’s why installing door alarms for Alzheimer’s patients is much safer and reliable.
There are many different kinds of door alarms for dementia patients for you to choose from. These can be as simple as a magnetic door alarm to a floor sensor alarm, but no matter which kind of system you choose, your loved one’s safety is guaranteed. You can even have these kinds of alarms installed on windows as well.
Invest in a medical and activity monitoring service.
While door alarms for Alzheimer’s patients are a great option if you live with your loved one, you may need to find an alternative solution if you live farther away. Luckily, Medical Guardian’s newest product line, the Family Guardian, will be able to serve as an early detection method for family members who are at risk of wandering off.
Once you install one of the three safety sensors on the main entrance, you will receive the following four notifications directly to your email or smartphone if/when:
- The main door is open
- The main door is open for more than five minutes
- The main door is opened at an unusual time
- The main door was opened and there hasn’t been activity within the home for a certain amount of time
Family Guardian will also alert you if anything uncharacteristic takes place in the home. For example, if your loved one doesn’t get out of bed before a certain time or misses a meal, an instant notification will alert you of the situation.
Alzheimer’s Care Resources
Not only is Alzheimer’s disease one of the most challenging conditions to watch someone endure, but it’s also one of the most difficult to provide care for. Luckily, there are many resources available to all those who provide Alzheimer’s care. The Alzheimer’s Association, the National Institute on Aging and even caregiver support groups are a great source of comfort for yourself and your loved one.
No matter which resource you take advantage of, what’s important to remember is that you are not facing any of these challenges alone.