Caring for a parent or loved one with dementia can be a challenging task. Not only will they come to rely on you for help with all of their daily activities, but you also have to worry about their safety. Wandering is a very common behavior associated with people with dementia, especially in the middle to late stages of the disease. However, there are a number of strategies that you can use to help reduce the risk of wandering. Just remember to consider your loved one’s situation and personality, and try to make their independence and freedom and priority for as long as it is safely possible to do so. You may also choose to consider moving into an assisted living facility like Oakleigh of Macomb, MI. Facilities like Oakleigh of Macomb have special supports in place to assist with memory care.
Look for a pattern or underlying cause.
- If you’ve noticed that your loved one has become prone to wandering, start by keeping a diary of when and where your loved one tends to wander. This may give you clues about why they are wandering, and help you to anticipate when they may wander so you can head it off beforehand.
Secure your home.
- Make sure to keep objects associated with the outdoors (keys, jackets, shoes) out of view
- Try to camouflage doors by decorating them or covering them with posters, wall hangings or mirrors
- Try putting up a sign on outside doors that say “Stop” or “Do Not Enter”. You can hang signs on other doors in the house which indicate where the door leads, such as “bathroom”.
- You could also purchase alarms that alert you when a door or window has been opened. Even something as simple as hanging bells on outside doors can help to let you know if a door is being opened. There are also doormats that set off an alarm when they are stepped on.
- Try putting a dark-colored mat in front of the door. Some people with dementia may perceive this as a gap or hole in the floor and be reluctant to cross it.
- Using a GPS or other tracking device in bracelets, jewelry or clothing can help you with monitoring your loved one.
- If feasible, install a fence with a secure gate system around the property.
- Try reviewing their medications with their doctor.
- In some cases, it may be possible to switch to drugs which are less likely to cause confusion or delusions. Speak to their doctor about your concerns and ask about the options available.
Increase their physical activity
- Regular physical activity can not only help with their physical health, it can help with their mental health as well. Physical activity can reduce agitation and provide an outlet for all that pent up energy. Many assisted living facilities have excellent classes to help their residents stay active.
- Alert your neighbors.
- It never hurts to have extra pairs of eyes keeping watch when you are caring for a loved one who wanders. Tell your neighbors, nearby businesses and your local police department about your loved one’s situation. They may be able to recognize if your family member appears to be disoriented and can offer help.
- Clothing ideas and personal identification.
- If your loved one tends to wander, it’s important to be able to see them from a distance, and to be able to pick them out in a crowd. So have them wear bright colors.
- Make sure that your loved one always has a way to be identified. A Medical ID bracelet or other form of jewelry can be an excellent option and is an item that is less likely to be misplaced or forgotten. However, something as simple as sewing identification information into their clothing can help.
Ensure you have a plan in case your loved one goes missing.
- It is important to know that sometimes, in spite of your best efforts, your loved one may end up going missing. Statistics show that three out of five people with dementia will wander. So you need to be prepared with a plan of action in case there is an emergency.
- Keep a list of people you can call on for help and have their contact information easily accessible.
- Keep a recent, close-up photo, as well as up-to-date medical information on hand to share with police.
- Be aware of dangerous areas near the home. Things like bodies of water, open stairwells, dense foliage, tunnels, bus stops and roads with heavy traffic.
- Know if your loved one is right or left hand. People with dementia tend to wander in the direction of their dominant hand.
- Keep a list of the places your loved one may wander to. This could include a past job, former home, places of worship, or even a restaurant.
What steps should you take if your loved one is missing.
- If your loved one does go missing, there are some steps that you should take.
- Search the area where the person was last seen for about 15 minutes.
- Call 911 and report to the police that a person with dementia is missing. A missing persons report should be filed and the police will begin to search for the individual.
- If they live in an assisted living facility, like Oakleigh of Macomb, notify the living facility that they have gone missing.
- Alert friends and neighbors to the situation.
- Have someone stay at the home in case the person returns.
Remember, the sooner you ask for help, the sooner your loved one is likely to be found.
If you need extra help to care for a loved one with dementia, please don’t hesitate to ask. Assisted living facilities with memory care have access to tools and resources that can either help answer your questions on how to better care for your loved one at home, or they can help you by providing a safe and comfortable home for your loved one.