According to the Alzheimer's Association, 6 in 10 people with dementia will wander. Wandering is when a person strays or wanders to an unsafe place that may lead to harm. Wandering occurs when a person with memory challenges or even those with early stages of dementia can become disoriented, forget or become confused for a short period of time and walk away from a task or location.
At times, wandering may cause someone to leave the home, building, or room without notice. The most dangerous form of wandering is "elopement" in which the confused individual wanders to a place and does not return. This is a cause for concern, but there are ways to help prevent it.
Types of Wandering
Goal-Directed Wandering - a person appears to be searching for someone or something. The person may also be looking for something to do and gesture as if they are performing familiar tasks.
Non-Goal-Directed Wandering - the person may wander aimlessly and have a very short attention span.
Know the Signs
Signs that your elderly loved one, or those in your care, may wander:
If he/she is anxious or worried
If they are frustrated or bored
If the person is experiencing unmet needs (such as, hunger, thirst, constipation, inactivity, fatigue, pain, etc.)
How to help?
Here are a few tips to assist you in helping to prevent your loved one from wandering.
Address any unmet needs (offer snack, drink, or trip to the bathroom)
Encourage physical activity - promotes relaxation, curbs restlessness, and prevents boredom
Label everything - he/she may forget where they are, so posting signs as visual cues to remind them of where they are in the environment (bathroom, suite, etc) may assist in guiding them back to safety
Take a walk - walking around the living space and talking about where you are in relation to the area, such as "there's the bathroom" or "we are going into the kitchen now" will assist with familiarizing them with, location and space.
Make a Plan - if they wander at the same time every day, plan an activity at that time, such as folding laundry, setting a table, doing crafts, or taking a walk in the garden.
If your loved one, or person in your care, is at risk for wandering outdoors, here are some options to assist you in ensuring their safety.
Store coats, shoes, etc out of sight
Set alarms and motion detectors, and install locks at doors and windows
Set up a GPS tracking device on your loved one (watch, shoe tracking device, etc.)
Place curtains over doors to obscure their sight and temptation to leave, or simply placing a stop sign image at their door may also help to prevent them from leaving the home.
Make a Plan
If your loved one is at risk for wandering or elopement, have a plan in place in case of an emergency. Here is a list from the Alzheimer's Association that can help you create an action plan:
Keep a list of people to call on for help. Have telephone numbers easily accessible.
Ask neighbours, friends and family to call if they see the person alone.
Keep a recent, close-up photo and updated medical information on hand to give to the police.
Know your neighbourhood. Pinpoint dangerous areas near the home, such as bodies of water, open stairwells, dense foliage, tunnels, bus stops and roads with heavy traffic.
Is the individual right or left-handed? Wandering generally follows the direction of the dominant hand.
Keep a list of places where the person may wander. This could include past jobs, former homes, places of worship or a restaurant.
If the person does wander, search the immediate area for no more than 15 minutes before getting help. If the person is not found within 15 minutes, call 911 to file a missing person’s report. Inform the authorities that the person has dementia.
If you feel your elderly loved one is at risk of wandering, contact your health practitioner, nursing home coordinator or home health care professionals for advice, safety device options, and/or strategies to ensure their safety.
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