How do I prevent an elderly loved one from wandering out of the house at night? - AgingCare.com

How do I prevent an elderly loved one from wandering out of the house at night?

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We live about five minutes away from our loved one (90 years old with dementia). Lately, she has been getting out of bed and wandering outside around the early morning hours (midnight, 3 AM, etc.). Luckily, the apartment building she lives in has security guards that notice her and bring her back home. We visit her several times a day (as she needs us to come by to give her medicine and cook her meals) so we have the key to her place.


My question is: what can I do prevent her from wandering out at night? She lives in a rented apartment so I don't think we can start drilling locks into the door frames. I'd like some sort of system where it can lock or jam the door if she tries to open it from the inside but allows us to disable it from the outside or at least come in easily when we do need to visit.


We've tried the monitoring technology but she doesn't like wearing anything on her wrist or on her neck and ends up taking it off herself. Besides, monitoring technology only tells us that she's been wandering but doesn't prevent her from doing so.


Does anyone have any suggestions?

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Wandering behavior is a game-changer. You can't lock her inside her apartment at night, she needs a way out if there's a fire and for someone with dementia living alone there's always a risk of a fire.

But let's say you do lock her in overnight. What happens when she tries the door to get out and it won't open? Will she stand there pulling on the door knob trying to get out? Will she panic and throw something at the door to get it to open? Will she break a window?

While your heart's in the right place, locking your loved one inside at night is not only risky but is on par with physically restraining her.

Once someone begins to wander it's time to look for alternative living arrangements such as a skilled nursing facility. Otherwise it's just a tragic accident waiting to happen.
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DO NOT devise a way to lock her in! This is illegal.

A few years back there was an older couple in my area who locked their adult disabled son in their home while they ran a quick errand to the store. The house caught fire and the son died. The older couple were charged with manslaughter.

Sorry to be so graphic and grim - but it happens. Don't let it happen to you!
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I agree wandering at night is a GAME CHANGER. She needs night care/lisenced-bonded person in her apt. Or she could stay with you nights or you could stay with her or she may now need a memory care locked facility.
I'm now caring for my mom, who has dementia, and is a flight risk. Do not leave her alone at night, please.
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noblerare, I agree with Eyerishlass above, this wandering needs immediate attention. Time either for paid caregivers to come into her home, if she allows it, or time for her to downsize to senior living.

My Dad had sundowning, so he would get confused at night. It was then that the Staff recommended Dad move from their Independent Living section over to their Memory Care. It was a hard decision as I didn't think my Dad was ready for that, but the Staff was around Dad a lot more than I was, so I agreed.

I showed Dad one of the rooms in Memory Care, and joked with him that it is the size of a college dorm. His main concern was the food going to be prepared by the same chef, and I said yes... that sealed the deal :)

The timing was good because I was starting to worry about Dad leaving the Independent Living on his own. Now he was in a secured building, the place was built like a Victorian Hotel so it didn't feel like he was being jailed. Dad could roam all over the building but he couldn't go out the front door.
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At this point, her safety is going to be much more important than letting her live "independently" with your help. Aides and you going over there a million times a day is delaying the inevitable nursing home placement. She needs memory care or skilled nursing where she can't wander outdoors and get lost. She might not be happy but clean, safe and fed are more important than her happiness.
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First of all she has no business living by herself.
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Locking in is the worst idea. My dad's doctor floated this idea last summer, for my mom to lock the two of them in the house at night in a manner that would take some extra doing to escape. Besides the previously mentioned possibility of tragedy, what does it do to the person's mental state to be trapped? We were afraid my dad might start breaking windows, other things, or harm my mom in her sleep. Wandering is a game changer. I live a block away from my parents and found my dad laying in my driveway at midnight one night. If I had not found him he would have laid there for 5-6 more hours and probably been hit by the sprinkler system incessantly. We moved him to a memory care facility 2 months ago. A friend of mine keeps his mother in law at home and the local police have found her wandering a cemetery 2 blocks away, during the middle of the night, and brought her home in the patrol car (several times!). My friend is miserable since moving his wife's mother into their house...don't do it!
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My mom lives with me and she started wandering about a year ago. The best and safest answer is to hire someone to come in at night to stay with her. However, if you are thinking of moving her to a dementia facility, then now would be the time.
I will keep mom home for as long as possible, hopefully to the end. But I am realistic about it as well. The night aide has been a life saver. But I still put double deadbolt locks on the doors, meaning they are keyed on both the inside and outside. I have the keys located by the doors (inside and outside) so everyone can grab the key quickly, but where mom can't get to it. I still have door sensors on all the doors leading to the outside, but my goal is to prevent incidents from happening. So the deadbolts prevent her from getting outside, but the keys are readily available to whoever is with mom. Mom is never left alone, she has someone with her 24/7. Best of luck. Take care of yourself.
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I agree with everyone above. My mom lived with me for two years and once she started wandering I knew it was time for placement. In my opinion, if my mother got lost on my watch; that would be negligent on my part.

If you don't want to move her, you could try hiring an overnight caregiver and see how that goes. The person would have to be trained in dementia behaviors.
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RayLin, a door alarm might work if the OP lived with the wanderer. But noblerare only lives nearby. This is what we mean by suggesting the wanderer can no longer safely live alone.

For wanderers with dementia who live with someone, a door alarm is a good idea.

A few years ago there was a great to-do about an elderly couple who lived on a farm in my state. She had dementia and wandered day or night. There are lots of dangers on a farm that person with reduced mental capacity wouldn't be safe around. The husband used a bicycle chain over his wife and in his hand as they sat in side-by-side chairs watching television. Then in case he dozed off he would know when his wife was getting up. The chain did not restrain her -- it was just a way to notify him she was up. Well someone reported this, the sheriff came, saw the arrangement, took the husband off to jail (!) and the wife to a care center. You can imagine the outcry when this hit the papers! Within a couple of days the couple was reunited at their home, and social services got involved to provide them lots of help. The newspaper accounts urged other older people who were having health challenges to get in touch with social services!

An alarm on every door would have been better than a bicycle chain for this rural couple.
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