Once the person with dementia experiences memory problems and is still able to walk, he is likely to wander. He will walk aimlessly as he becomes disoriented or confused. And the challenge here is that he most likely forgets even his name or address. This symptom could happen even in the early stage of the disease.
Admittedly, identifying the triggers to wandering is quite difficult. But you can plan for this situation. Be keen in observing for signs of the person’s behavior. Does your loved one try to fulfill former obligations, like going to work? Does he insist on “going home”, even when he is at home? You may also notice his difficulty in finding his bedroom, the bathroom, or the dining room. These are few of the signs that you should look out for.
As his caregiver, you may apply these strategies to minimize the person’s chances of wandering.
Identify which time of the day he often wanders. Plan a pleasant activity or schedule his regular exercise during this period. Activities and exercise help reduce the person’s restlessness as his mind gets occupied.
Reposition or install new locks at home. A person with dementia does not likely look beyond eye level. So, it would be wise to install the lock high or low on the door. Or, you may add a slide bolt at the top or at the bottom. But don’t forget the fire and safety concerns of the other members of the household. See to it that the locks are accessible to them and are easy to open.
Set up a barrier or camouflage doors. Set up a removable screen or curtain over the doors. Or, paint them with the same color as the walls. Use child proof knobs. You may also want to put up a sign on the door that says something like “Stop” or “Do Not Enter”.
Create an impassable illusion. A person with dementia is likely to mistake a black thing for an impassable hole. Capitalize on this misconception by placing a black mat at the outer side of the doors and porch.
Supervision is a must. Whether he is at home, at a care facility, or inside a car, never leave a person with dementia alone without supervision.
Notify your neighbors. Inform your neighbors that you have a member with dementia who has the tendency to wander. Leave your contact numbers with them. Request them to call you in case they see your loved one alone.
Use a monitoring device. Lessen your worry about your loved one wandering into places they should not be. Know where the dangerous areas near or around your home. Areas like open stairwells, bodies of water, tunnels, dense foliage, and roads with heavy traffic pose hazard to the person. Avail of any of the tracking devices specially designed to monitor persons with dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other conditions.
If your loved one does wander, make an immediate search in your surroundings, especially in those dangerous areas. Immediate means not later than 15 minutes from the time of the person’s disappearance. Keep a list of possible places where he may wander. The person might have gone where he used to work or live, went to his favorite restaurant, or place of worship,
Have your loved one wear an ID jewelry. In case your loved one does strays, his ID bracelet or jewelry should alert your neighbor’s or anyone who sees him about his condition. A dementia medical ID is also meant to notify professionals, such as first-aid personnel, medical practitioners, and rescuers of the appropriate action to take in the event that the wearer is involved in an emergency.
Always keep a recent and close-up photograph, and an updated medical information of your loved one. You will need these items to present to the police in case of his disappearance.
Keep the person’s essential items out of sight. If your loved one is not likely to go out without his coat, eyeglasses, or favorite wallet, don’t let him see these items. Put them away and all other items that might tempt him to leave.
Remember that if the patient is still able to read and follow instructions, a pocket card may help him. Write very simple instructions like, “Stay Calm,” “Don’t walk away,” “Call Home,” and put your telephone number on it.
If you are planning on putting your patient/loved ones in a daycare center. Make sure to put them in the early stages of their disease. When putting them in a Daycare center, make sure to have them stay short visits on the first few visits. Like start with 2 hours for the first day, and 4 hours on the second time and so on and so forth so they get used to it. Also on those first few days, make sure that a familiar caregiver is with them. Another thing to consider is that the actual caregiver at the Daycare Center visits them at your home before the transition. Leaving your patient/loved one who has dementia alone to adjust may add to the patients agitation and continue to wander around.
The stress that the families and caregivers experience when their dementia-suffering member wanders can be overwhelming. It is important, then, that you make the necessary precautions and plans to minimize his wandering.