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Ohio Department of Aging Boomerang: It all comes back to you!

Boomerang: It all comes back to you!

My Family - February 2011

Preparing for the worst: How to prevent a loved one from wandering
Thinking ahead and simple modifications can reduce the risk

Mom may have dementia but it could be worse, you tell yourself. At least she isn't the type to wander off and get lost. She has never shown any inclination to wander. You have talked with her and she has agreed not to go out by herself, but you keep an eye on her all the time, just in case. You may feel safe, but 60 percent of people with dementia will wander at some point, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

As conditions like dementia progress, the individual increasingly loses her ability to make good judgments and think logically. It only takes a moment for someone to wander away. Even the most observant caregiver has to sleep, bathe or talk on the phone. If a loved one has already wandered once, odds are it will happen again.

Wandering can be caused by stress, confusion, anxiety or side effects of medication. People with dementia who wander often have a purpose or goal in mind, such as going to work or looking after a child. You can't know when your loved one will wander, but the Alzheimer's Association offers some tips to help you prevent it and steps to take when it does happen. By being proactive, you can protect your loved one.

You can reduce your loved one's anxiety, agitation and restlessness by ensuring all her basic physical needs are met and by involving her in daily activities, such as folding laundry, listening to music and dancing. Identify the most likely times of day when she may wander and plan activities at that time. Redirect pacing or restless behavior and reassure her if she feels lost, abandoned or disoriented. Don't try to correct her when she says she wants to leave to go home or to work. If she starts to wander, use distraction to redirect her focus.

You can make your home a safer environment for someone with dementia:

  • Cover door knobs with cloth the same color as the door and use childproof knobs.
  • Place locks out of the line of sight. Install slide bolts at the top or bottom of doors. However, never lock a person with dementia in a home alone.
  • Camouflage doors by painting them the same color as the walls or cover them with removable curtains or screens. Place warning bells above all doors.
  • Place mirrors near doorways. The reflection of a person's own face will often stop her from exiting the door.
  • Use black tape or paint to create a two-foot black threshold in front of the door.
  • Put hedges or a fence around the patio, yard or other outside common areas.
  • Some people will not go out without a coat, hat, pocketbook, keys, wallet, etc. Be sure to secure those items.
  • Never leave a person with dementia alone in a car.
  • Ask neighbors, friends and family to call you if they see your loved one alone or dressed inappropriately.

Keep a list of emergency phone numbers and addresses of the local police and fire departments, hospitals and poison control as well as a list of physicians' phone numbers and current medications, with dosages.

Contact your local law enforcement agency before your loved one wanders or gets lost. Introduce yourself, alert them to your family's situation and ask if they have any resources to help protect your loved one. The police may be able to help you enroll in a program that will give your loved one a bracelet or necklace with a tracking device that will help the police locate her if she wanders. Also, keep a recent, close-up photo of your loved one on hand to give to police, if necessary.

Fifty percent of elders who are lost either sustain serious injuries or die after the first day, according to the Alzheimer's Association. A proactive approach can help prevent a loved one from wandering and help keep her safe.


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