Winter months are a time for cozy nights, hot chocolate, and bundling up to brave the cold, but for people with Alzheimer’s disease, it can also be a dangerous time of year. Wandering is an all too common occurrence in those suffering from the life-altering condition. Because of that, extra precautions must be taken during winter months when venturing outside may become more challenging due to icy footing and colder temperatures that limit how long one can safely stay out and about.
In this blog post, we’ll discuss why wandering can be particularly hazardous during winter weeks and what steps families should take to ensure their loved ones remain safe while they enjoy the seasonal festivities.
Being proactive is the key to keeping family members with Alzheimer’s safe during winter months. The first step is addressing why your loved one with dementia wanders outside. Some common reasons for older people with dementia to wander are that it gives them a sense of purposefulness, excitement, or pleasure. However, they may also wander because of a trigger of too many stimuli and the desire to get away from people and noise. It could also be due to unmet needs such as thirst, hunger, or the need to use the restroom.
It can be hard to keep an eye on an elderly loved one every minute of the day, but steps can be taken to help ensure their safety if they wander outside. First, create a walking path around the home with visual cues and stimulating objects. Try to offer stimulating and enjoyable activities and tasks such as exercise, crafts, and music.
You will also want to be mindful of having certain objects in view, such as jackets, purses, and car keys, which may trigger the person to leave suddenly. Installing electric chimes on doors or having a smart doorbell with an app that will notify you if someone leaves home could help to alert you.
Keeping a record of wandering patterns duration, time of day, and frequency can help to guide you in the future. Try to encourage healthy sleep habits to help reduce the chances of your loved one leaving during the middle of the night.
Having a safety plan in place is also an excellent idea in the event they do go missing. This should include a list of places a person might go, a recent close-up photo of your loved one, and accessible medical information for first responders.
Many communities offer safety programs that provide locating technology that first responders can activate if your loved one goes missing.
“Being proactive by understanding and addressing the reasons someone may wander, while also having a plan in place in case of an emergency, are the best ways to protect the person’s safety and quality of life,” said Jennifer Reeder from The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA).
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