Wandering Top Tips: How to Secure and Dementia-Proof Your Home

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The AgingCare.com forum is filled with people coming together to share valuable information. We’ve compiled experienced caregivers’ best tips for preventing elopement during episodes of wandering.

How to Keep a Wanderer Safe and Indoors

“When it comes to keeping someone from wandering outside (eloping), you can lock the doors to the house as long as you are home in the event of an emergency. It is not cruel to lock the doors. You are also saving the neighbors and police some worry. If the police are summoned frequently, they may insist that you find some way to keep your loved one inside and supervised so they will be safe.” –JessieBelle

“Get deadbolt door locks, take the keys out of them at night, and keep the keys on a chain around your neck, that way if your loved one is wandering at night, they cannot get out of the house. If there is a fire, you do not have to look for the keys in the middle of a crisis, because they are right there around your neck. If all the deadbolts are keyed the same, you only need to wear one key.” –LyricaLady

“Child locks and alarms work well and are reasonably priced. Also, try installing a lock at the bottom of the door or at the top. Your loved one may not think to look in those places to unlock the door.” –jycaregiver

“We cut Mom’s bedroom door in half and locked the bottom half from the outside. (Like Mr. Ed’s door, if you remember that show.) She even tried going out a window once, so beware. I bought those clear window insulator kits that you put on with a hair dryer to cover the windows (about $7 at Walmart). You can also insert a piece of wood from top of window to top of the casing so it won’t go up. We also bought a keypad doorknob for the door that leads down to the basement. You have to enter 2 numbers to get the door open. The online site I used was called Go Keyless. The keypad was about $100, but so worth every penny. Now that we have grandchildren, the added safety and security is even better! Fortunately, wandering is just a stage, so hang in there.” –Reverseroles

“I finally secured the doors to the point that my mom could not open them on her own. I covered our doorknobs with plastic covers designed to keep toddlers from opening doors. Eventually, I had to secure those with duct tape wrapped around and around, as she could get the knob covers off when she was really intent on leaving. I also had to add internal hardware, like sliding locks and chained door guards, and these had to be installed above her reach.” –Catjohn22

“Installing a regular wooden door that looks like a continuation of the wall can help deter wandering. Paint it the same color as the surrounding wall (even if you have to add some sort of pattern for continuity) to disguise the door. You can keep this door locked, and it will not encourage access to certain areas of the house or the outdoors. It works in institutional environments, so it should work at home if it’s done well.” –LivingWell

“I did a very simple thing that is effective for preventing my mom from trying to get outside. I picked up a pack of Safety 1st Grip N’ Twist doorknob covers (3 to a pack for $3 at Walmart). They glow in the dark, and I have a heck of a time opening the doors myself now unless I grip them just right. I shudder at the thought of Mom wandering anywhere by herself, and these certainly work for us.” –murphyclm

“Another option would be a safety latch, much like what you find on the inside of a hotel door. The problem with this is, in an emergency, you would have to remove the latch. Not to mention, if first responders try to get in, they will break the door or a window to gain access to the area. So, it’s not the safest thing. If you try to keep your loved one in their room at night, maybe provide a mini fridge with snacks and water or juice so they don’t have to leave the room for those items. I’m not sure if someone with dementia would be able to adapt to the fridge or not, though.” –Grandma1954

“A lady I cleaned for had a half-door installed across her basement stairway. She said her husband would stand there shaking and pulling it to try and get downstairs, so I would be apprehensive about installing anything that isn’t very sturdy. I also want to warn anyone who may be considering installing a gate or door at the top of a stairway to NEVER have the door swing into the stairway. I’ve heard too many instances when an improperly latched door has led to tragic falls. The same goes for gates. If there is even the remotest possibility that your loved one will climb over it or push it off the supports (and anything not screwed into studs can be rattled loose), then it is better to do without. I have also read that sometimes a black mat placed in front of a doorway will keep dementia patients from crossing the threshold because they perceive it to be a hole in the ground. I don’t know anyone who has tried it, though. There are probably some good technological solutions, too… Perhaps try some type of motion sensor alarm that will sound when a loved one approaches off-limit areas?” –Cwillie

“Be sure to install safety gates at stairways and door openings. Hardware-mounted gates are the best and most commonly used. A gate at the top of a staircase is the most critical one that you will install and MUST be hardware mounted. It needs to be drilled and attached to both sides of the gate location. Look for a product with an easy-to-use, one-handed operation. Gates installed at the top of the stairs should have a special safety bracket or mechanism that prevents them from opening out over the stairs. Most often, stairway gates are attached with the hinged side to the wall and the latch side to the post. An automatic lock upon shutting can reduce the chance of ‘user error,’ too. Some models are self-latching, which means you don’t have to turn around to close the gate. Simply swing the gate behind you and it will latch and lock itself. Sometimes the gate at the bottom of the stairs will need to be installed one or two steps up to achieve a cleaner, more secure install, since many staircases have radius banisters that make a bottom-step install more difficult.” –Llamalover47

“My dad had to be kept in his bedroom during the night so I could sleep. He had a commode, mini fridge and TV in his room. All stairways (basement/attic/outdoor) were kept locked off at all times, and we installed a kitchen door to keep him away from the stove, microwave and washing machine. In our case, a baby gate would have been easily opened or knocked over. When my dad fixated on a doorway, it had to be sturdy or he was going through. We also took the bathroom door off its hinges and installed a curtain for privacy so he couldn’t lock himself in.” –Soloinny

“My concern with the double locks is, what if you had to get out in a hurry because of an emergency, fire, gas leak, etc.? It seems that door alarms would be safer, and maybe the tone would frighten your loved one and act as a kind of deterrent. Maybe it could eventually stop the wandering behavior, but it depends on the patient.” –Gladimhere

“Memory care facilities and nursing homes don’t lock people in their rooms; they lock the outside doors. They mostly control wandering with bed alarms, motion sensors, and locked or alarmed exit doors. You’re better off locking the problematic areas of the house (entrances/exits, knives, chemicals, garage, etc.) than locking the person down.” –Appaloosa

“Some people here mentioned double-sided locks, which mean doors can only be locked/unlocked with a key. The problem with this is, if there’s a fire and you’re panicking, will you remember to get/find the key and be able to get your loved one and yourself out while in a panic? My dad put extra sliding locks on all doors—one sliding lock on top (I have to tiptoe to reach it) and one on the way bottom (bend down to reach it). It worked, but it made Mom very, very angry that she couldn’t go out during the evenings. I have read how some people have installed some kind of beam that alerts the caregiver when their loved one gets up and passes through their bedroom door. There are all kinds of alerts that you can install in the bedroom and extra locks for doors leading outside of the house. Locking the bedroom door sounds dangerous to me, but that’s just my point of view.” –Bookluvr

Read: Wandering Top Tips: Best Products for Monitoring a Senior Who Wanders

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