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.