Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias affect the brain in different ways. Memory loss is one of the most well-known hallmarks of the disease, but if you speak to caregivers and professionals, you’ll soon hear about “challenging behaviors.” In this four-part series, we’ll explore some of the more challenging behaviors you may have to address as a caregiver to someone with dementia.
It’s a terrifying situation to be in: you come home from a quick errand, see that the front door is wide open and realize that your loved one with dementia has wandered away from the house. Or you turn your back for a moment and your family member disappears into the crowd. This behavior, wandering, occurs in 6 out of 10 people with dementia, and can be dangerous.
“Anyone who experiences a form of memory loss is at risk of wandering because of confusion or disorientation,” says Andrea Campisi, Marketing and Admissions Director of The Reutlinger Community, a Continuing Care Retirement Community in Danville, CA. “Someone with dementia may forget their name, where they live or simply not know where they are. This can occur at any stage of dementia, even in the very early stages. That’s why it’s important for caregivers and family members to plan ahead and put strategies in place to prevent loved ones from wandering.”
Why does wandering happen?
We don’t know the exact reason why people with dementia will wander, but there are many triggers that can cause the behavior to happen. Here are just some of the many reasons why your loved one with dementia may end up wandering.
- They’re stressed or afraid. If your loved one is in a loud, overstimulating or unfamiliar environment (like a crowded shopping center or at an event), they may wander to get away from a situation they don’t understand or to get away from something that’s causing them anxiety.
- They’re searching for something. Oftentimes, people with dementia will start out looking for something or someone, but then get lost as they forget where they’re going or what they’re doing.
- They’re bored. It’s possible your loved one isn’t getting enough stimulation at home, so they set out to find it elsewhere.
- They need something, like a bathroom or food. Your loved one may simply be in search of something to fulfill his or her basic needs.
- They’re going about an old routine. Your father may be heading to work, like he did for 40 years. Mom may be heading to the grocery store to do the weekly shopping, like she always did when you were little.
Who is at risk for wandering?
If your loved one is doing the things below or experiencing certain symptoms, it increases the chance that he or she will exhibit wandering behavior. You should take notice if you’re loved one is:
- Forgetting how to get to familiar locations
- Talks about things they used to do in the past, like going to work
- Continually is trying to “go home,” even though they’re “at home”
- Acts restless, paces around or is displaying repetitive behavior
- Is having a hard time locating familiar places like the bedroom, bathroom or TV room
- Keeps asking where certain family members or friends are (such as asking for a husband who passed away a long time ago)
- Appears to be doing a chore or a hobby without accomplishing anything (such as taking yarn in and out of the basket without actually knitting anything)
- Becomes anxious or nervous in crowded areas
Tips for preventing wandering.
If you know or are worried about your loved one wandering, here are some things you can do to help reduce the risk of it happening.
- Have a daily routine. Keeping to a set plan of activities will help provide structure and better allow your loved one to manage their day.
- Know when your loved one’s “bad times” are (i.e. the times of day when they’re most likely to wander) and plan an activity or event at that time. Having something to do will help reduce your loved one’s agitation, anxiety and restlessness.
- Let your loved one know they are safe and cared for. Instead of correcting them (such as if Mom wants to “go to work), reassure them that they are in a safe place, that you are there with them and redirect their attention.
- Find out if your loved one’s basic needs are being taken care of. Is he hungry? Thirsty? Does she need to use the restroom? These are all possibilities for why he or she is wandering.
- Stay away from busy, noisy places that can cause confusion and disorientation.
- At home, reinstall locks to be out of the line of sight. One option is to install slide bolts at the bottom or top of the door.
- Invest in devices that can signal when a window or door is opened. You can make them as simple (think a bell over a door) or as sophisticated (home alarm) as you wish.
- If you notice your loved one becoming restless, distract them with an activity or exercise. You can also take steps to reduce confusion by moving to a quiet place.
- Speak to your loved one’s doctor to determine whether the disorientation could be medication-related.
What to do if your loved one does wander.
Even if you’re the most diligent caretaker possible, there’s still a chance that your loved one will wander. In that event, it’s smart to have a plan in place.
- Make sure your neighbors and local place know that your loved one wanders, and be sure to pass along vital information such as your cell phone number.
- Have your loved one wear an ID tag or bracelet.
- Sign up for the Alzheimer’s Association’s MedicAlert® and Safe Return Program, a nation-wide identification system that was designed to help locate and rescue lost individuals with dementia.
- If your loved one is missing, begin searching immediately. 95 percent of individuals with dementia who wander are found within two miles of where they disappeared from. Don’t forget to call 911.
- Know dangerous areas near your area and check them first thing (bodies of water, balconies, foliage, bus stops, etc.)
- Look along roads, since many wanderers will start out on a road and stay nearby.
- Know whether your loved one is left- or right-handed, as wanderers usually travel toward their dominant direction.
- Investigate familiar and favorite spots, since your loved one may be wandering towards a specific destination.
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Offering Assisted Living, Enhanced Assisted Living, Memory Care, Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation, The Reutlinger Community provides a continuum of care that allows seniors to live a life-enhancing and stimulating environment. Located in Danville, California, The Reutlinger Community’s newly renovated, 110,000 square foot community combines the comfort and familiarity of home with seasoned senior care and skilled nursing specialists to suit any seniors needs, allowing them to live the life they choose with freedom and security.
Because we specialize in a continuum of care, our residents never need to worry about leaving the community they call home or wonder what will happen when they need some more care. Residents and families alike can have peace of mind knowing that there are full-time licensed nurses available, along with activity coordinators, social workers, caregivers, a concierge and Rabbi who focus solely on helping each resident thrive. Even better, our services and amenities are equal to those of a state-of-the-art resort. This is the lifestyle and care that your loved one deserves.
At The Reutlinger Community, seniors have numerous opportunities to engage in award-winning programs that are designed to engage the mind, renew the spirit and provide opportunities to meet new people and learn something new. Whether residents are enjoying our art program and museum, listening to a lecture or educational program or attending spiritual programming and our wide range of activities, there’s something for each resident to love. Participate as much or as little as you like, the choice is all yours.
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