How to Control Alzheimer's Wandering

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Alzheimer's disease causes sufferers to become disoriented, confused and afraid. The disease can erase memories of once-familiar surroundings, and as a result, Alzheimer's patients often wander away from home. In fact, the Alzheimer's Association estimates that 60% of Alzheimer's patients wander away from home. The stress can weigh heavily on caregivers and family.

It is not possible to completely prevent wandering in people with Alzheimer's and dementia, but caregivers can minimize the risk. Here are some techniques to try:

Install wandering-prevention locks. Install locks and escape prevention devices on doors, windows and gate. These products require complex maneuvers to open doors, thus making it difficult for Alzheimer's and dementia patients to leave. For example, if your loved one tends to unlock doors, install sliding bolt locks out of your loved one's line of sight.

Install alarms. There are many wandering prevention alarms on the market that can alert you that your loved one is trying to get out. These devices include motion detectors, pressure-sensitive alarm mats at the door, and warning bells on doors.

Disguise escape routes. Camouflaging doors and windows inhibits the Alzheimer patient's ability to find a way out. Paint doors the same color as walls, or hang curtains on windows that match the color of walls, so they blend in with surroundings, and make them less visible.

Provide a safe place to wander. Provide a safe place in your home or yard for walking or exploration — such as a path through the rooms of your house or a circular trail through a fenced backyard.

Use visual cues. People who have Alzheimer's often forget where they are, even inside their own homes. Visual reminders provide clues and trigger memories. For example, post descriptive photos on the doors to various rooms, such as the bathroom, and kitchen. Even Stop signs at doors have been reported to help.

Look for triggers and plan distractions. Many people with Alzheimer's disease have a pattern to their behaviors. Watch for triggers, such as a certain time of day. (Many people with Alzheimer's become agitated or fear just before or after sundown, known as Sundowner's syndrome) If your loved one tends to wander at the same time every day, a planned activity at that hour could stem the wandering.

Hide keys. In addition to wandering on foot, people with Alzheimer's might attempt to drive. Store and hide keys to cars and doors. Also, keep coats and shoes out of sight.

Warn neighbors and authorities. Caregivers often don't know their loved ones are missing before someone finds them. If neighbors are made aware of the situation, they can be on the look-out. Notify neighbors and police and make sure they have your contact information.

Use a tracking device. If your loved one wanders, a GPS or radio frequency device can help emergency personnel, find him or her quickly. The Alzheimer's patient wears a bracelet or ankle tracking device - a personal transmitter that tracks the person's location. Many communities have a program called Project Lifesaver, (link to Project Lifesaver article) to track and locate wanderers. Check with your police station to find out if a program is available in your area.

ID bracelets. The Alzheimer's Association operates a nationwide identification system called Safe Return . The person with Alzheimer's wears an engraved ID bracelet or necklace with a phone number to call if they're found. Their name is entered into a national database, where anyone can call 24 hours a day.

Prepare for a search. Keep a recent photo and detailed physical description of the person readily available. Also have medical and health information, and vehicle information on hand.

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4 Comments

I think the article is concise and very informative. It makes several good suggestions.
Very good article. I have completed most of these earlier, even have a whole house alarm system but am not sure that would stop a wanderer with the big A.
Another thought on wandering is , I have a great call one button on my spouse which uses GPS to locate the patient , it is around $30 per month, an engraved ID bracelet with address , illness, etc. and I also have a Safe Return from a free program with our local Sheriff's Dept that works on radio signal and also have informed our local volunteer fire dept and all neighbors of his illness. That is as good as it gets unless I find something else. God Bless Shari Rose The Safe Return Program is wonderful and donations to this program or a similar one is well deserved and appreciated in our location it is free and needs donations too.
Great article, very informative with many good suggestions. I would also look into GPS and Cellular technology to locate the person that you care for. Check out locationbasedGPS as this site offers a variety of products for wandering prevention safety solutions. GPS and cellular technology is designed to let you know where your loved ones are located. Don't wait for the wander -- do something to prevent wander before it happens in order to give yourself some peace of mind. Wandering is a seriously dangerous behavior that needs to be prevented.