One of the biggest concerns for caregivers who work with people suffering from dementia is wandering. Oftentimes, dementia sufferers feel the urge to walk around and in many cases end up wandering away from their homes. The problem is that they have difficulty remembering how to get back. For decades, medical scientists have been looking into the causes and treatments for dementia and wandering.
Dementia is a term used to describe a variety of conditions that occur when nerve cells in the brain no longer function properly or die. This malfunctioning leads to memory loss. Sadly, dementia is becoming more prevalent. In fact, most of us know someone who has suffered from dementia or we have heard about sufferers through friends.
When wandering dementia becomes a habit, it is worrisome to caregivers. A person might wander away on a regular basis and this can make people feel anxious about their safety.
While it may seem that wandering dementia is an aimless action, the truth is that sometimes a sufferer does have a reason for walking about. Let’s take a look at why dementia patients might wander.
The possibility of dementia wandering can be frightening, not only for the patient but also for their family, friends, and caregivers. There are some steps that everyone can take to help keep a dementia sufferer safe.
One helpful tip for managing wandering dementia patients is to develop an emergency plan so that you are prepared in the event that a person does wander. That plan can include drafting a list of people you can call for help, having an updated photo of the person and their medical information so you can pass it over to the police, as well as getting to know the neighborhood the dementia sufferer lives in and noting dangerous areas such as construction sites, creeks, open stairwells, and tunnels. It is also a good idea to find out if the person is right- or left-handed. As it turns out, wandering normally follows the direction of the dominant hand. A plan should also include a list of places the dementia sufferer may go to, including former homes, church, restaurants, or a past work place. Many people who have relatives with dementia enroll the person in Medic Alert Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return program.
Develop a daily routine. Dementia sufferers are less likely to wander when they have activities planned that can distract and entertain them.
Reassure the person. Talk with the dementia sufferer frequently to make sure they feel safe and are free from anxiety.
Validate their concerns. Instead of correcting a person with dementia, it is best to use communication that validates their worries. For example, if a dementia sufferer wants to “go to work” then you might say, “We are staying here tonight. We are safe here and we can deal with that in the morning following a good sleep.”
Make sure needs are met. Wandering is less likely if a dementia patient has had a bathroom visit, has had their meals on time, and isn’t hungry or thirsty.
Avoid busy places. Busy areas tend to confuse people with dementia and make them feel disoriented. This is when they tend to walk away.
Use locks wisely. Place door locks out of the line of sight.
Keep car keys hidden. Some people with dementia may forget that they are not longer able to drive.
Restrict nighttime fluids. Making sure a person with dementia doesn’t drink two hours before bedtime can help cut down on waking up and having the urge to wander.
Use GPS. Consider having the person with dementia wear a GPS tracking device.
Research shows that six out of 10 people who suffer from dementia will end up wandering. If you are concerned about someone you love wandering, let your local police, your close neighbors, and other important contacts know about the condition your loved one suffers from. Keep a list of emergency phone numbers with you at all times and reach out to the local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Society. They are a good resource when it comes to caring for and protecting those who suffer from conditions like dementia.