Wandering is a common Alzheimer’s symptom and a common problem for those caring for someone with Alzheimer’s at home. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, over 60 percent of people with dementia exhibit wandering tendencies at some point during their illness, which means that their homes may be unsafe places for them. This article outlines practical Alzheimer’s care advice to help reduce wandering and keep your loved ones safe when they’re at home.
Alzheimer’s Care: Understanding Wandering
Wandering occurs in the mid to late Alzheimer’s stages when individuals no longer recognize once-familiar places. People who wander are often trying to accomplish a specific purpose. They may be:
- Carrying out old routines such as preparing to go to work
- Searching for a certain person, possession, or room in the house, such as the bathroom
- Trying to escape a stressful situation, such as too much noise in a particular area of the house.
In some cases, wandering can be the result of medication side effects leading to delirium or a recent move to a new environment.
How to Reduce Wandering
If you understand an Alzheimer patient’s motive for wandering, you may be able to reduce wandering symptoms. For example, if you notice that a patient wanders away to look for something to eat, schedule a snack break before the usual wandering begins.
If the wandering is due to disorientation, try labeling important rooms in the house with a sign or a picture outside the door. You may also curb wandering habits by diverting the person’s attention to other activities such as going for a walk or performing a simple chore.
Alzheimer’s Care: Safety issues
Despite your efforts, wandering may continue. If this is the case, the next best step is to ensure that your home is safe so that patients don’t get hurt when they wander. Consider some of the following tips for safety-conscious Alzheimer’s care:
- Create a safe wandering area. Create a path in your house or yard where the patient can wander freely and safely.
- Reduce potential hazards. Place safety gates on stairwells. Remove extension cords and any other items that may cause a patient to trip and fall.
- Use locks and alarms. Lock outside doors and cabinets containing potentially dangerous items, such as medicines or weapons. Consider installing an alarm system that warns you when the patient leaves the house. If the patient is a night wanderer, alarm mats can alert you before the patient even leaves the bedroom.
Preparing for the Worst
No matter how watchful you are, at some point your patient may leave the house without your knowledge. You can prepare for such an emergency by purchasing a medical identification bracelet and asking your neighbors to help. Keep a recent photo of the patient available to show your neighbors or the police. Consider purchasing a wearable GPS tracking device that will help you target the patient’s location quickly and easily.
Alzheimer’s Association. (n.d.). Wandering. Retrieved June 28, 2010, from http://www.alz.org/living_with_alzheimers_wandering_behaviors.asp.
American Health Assistance Foundation. (n.d.). Home and personal safety. Retrieved June 25, 2010, from http://www.ahaf.org/alzheimers/livingwith/safety.html.
Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation. (n.d.). Modifying your home for Alzheimer’s disease patients. Retrieved June 25, 2010, from http://www.alzinfo.org/alzheimers-treatment-modifying.asp.
Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2010). Alzheimer’s: Understand and control wandering. Retrieved June 25, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/alzheimers/HQ00218.
U.S. National Institutes of Health: National Institute on Aging. (n.d.). Caring for a person with Alzheimer’s disease: Your easy-to-use guide from the National Institute on Aging. Retrieved June 25, 2010, from http://www.nia.nih.gov/Alzheimers/Publications/CaringAD/.