What you can do to keep yourself and your loved ones safe.
Alzheimer’s disease destroys brain cells responsible for memory, thinking and behavior. As a result, people living with Alzheimer’s or a related disorder may become disoriented and lost, even in their own neighborhood or places that are familiar to them – this is known as wandering. Due to confusion, individuals with Alzheimer’s who wander are often unable to ask for help, leaving them vulnerable to weather, traffic and those who prey on the less fortunate.
More than 60 percent of those with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia will wander, and if a person is not found within 24 hours, up to half of individuals who wander will suffer serious injury or death.
A person with dementia may be at risk for wandering if he or she:
- Comes back from a regular walk or drive later than usual
- Tries to fulfill former obligations, such as going to work
- Tries or wants to “go home” even when at home
- Is restless, paces or makes repetitive movements
- Has a hard time locating familiar places like the bathroom, bedroom or dining room
- Acts as if doing a hobby or chore, but nothing gets done (moves around pots and dirt without actually planting anything)
- Acts nervous or anxious in crowded areas, such as shopping malls or restaurants
If you live with or care for a person with dementia, here are a few tips to help you reduce the risk of wandering:
- Move around and exercise to reduce anxiety, agitation and restlessness
- Ensure all basic needs are met (toileting, nutrition, thirst)
- Carry out daily activities, such as folding laundry or preparing dinner, to provide daily structure
- Reassure the person if he or he feels lost, abandoned or disoriented
- Avoid busy places that are confusing and can cause disorientation, such as shopping malls
- Place deadbolts either high or low on exterior doors
- Control access to car keys (a person with dementia may not just wander by foot)
- Do not leave someone with dementia unsupervised in new surroundings
The Alzheimer’s Association encourages individuals and families coping with wandering to enroll in MedicAlert + Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return®, a nationwide identification program designed to assist in the return of those who wander and become lost.
Families seeking a more technologically advanced and robust program may consider the new Alzheimer’s Association Comfort Zone program (see opposite page for more info). Family members can have knowledge of a person’s location, while individuals with Alzheimer’s can enjoy the emotional security of familiar routines and surroundings.