Alzheimer’s disease and other memory impairment conditions such as dementia, come with many challenges for both the individual living with the disease and their loved ones. One of the toughest and most dangerous behaviors is wandering, which affects 6 out of 10 people.
Wandering is caused by many factors, but can be linked back mostly to disorientation. Even in its earliest stages, Alzheimer's causes a person to become disoriented and confused for a period. This confusion leads to:
- Not being able to find their way back from an outing
- Feeling like they aren’t “home” and trying to find home (whether it be imaginary or a previous residence)
- Trying to fulfill former obligations, such as chores or going to work
- Difficulty finding familiar places, even inside their home
All of these feelings lead to a person physically moving around their residence or even exiting it. While walking isn’t inherently wrong: it can often relieve stress, boredom and provide an excellent form of exercise; it needs to happen in a controlled environment. Rather than dismissing their wandering habit, realize that it may put them in danger. Someone who walks about often needs 24-hour care or monitoring.
Caregiving for someone who wanders is often time too much of a task for a single, family caregiver (usually a spouse or adult child) even with the support of others. Here are some things to consider if your loved one begins to wander:
Acknowledge the Warning Signs
Since wandering or getting lost can start early on, be on the lookout for patterns and signs that this may not be an isolated occurrence. Because Alzheimer's is an accumulation of signs and symptoms, it is often not diagnosed immediately.
Keeping your mind open to signs like confusion, memory loss, disorientation, mood changes and wandering will help you identify the disease early and mitigate any risk associated with your loved one not receiving proper care.
Limit the Risk While at Home
Keeping someone at home that wanders is many times, not ideal. It can pose a threat to your loved one and add stress to the family caregivers. Understanding what triggers wandering and trying to prevent or redirect it is a crucial step in keeping them at home. Asking yourself "Is it always at a particular time?”, “Are they getting enough physical exercise?” and “Are they stressed?” are places to start.
Securing your home is also a critical activity that must happen. Look for locks that can be put out of their sight or are designed specifically for people living with Alzheimer’s.
Have a Plan in Place In Case of an Emergency
If your loved one does wander away from your home or does not return from an activity, have a plan in place to quickly resolve the crisis. Most importantly, do not panic! While this is hard, it's important you remain clear-headed throughout this difficult time.
First, contact the appropriate people whether it be authorities or other family members who can help. Keep recent photographs handy to provide the police or others who may not be familiar with your loved one.
To accurately determine the search area, consider whether they are on foot or in a vehicle. When you find your loved one, resist the urge to criticize them or show you are worried. Often they will be anxious themselves so reassure them and quickly get them back into a familiar routine.
Accept The Problem and Look for a Solution
While probably the most difficult step, be open to understanding that you may not be able to keep your loved one at home. If their wandering has become enough of a problem that you are worried about it, then you may not be able to handle it on your own. Though it's hard, recognize that keeping them at home is most likely putting them and others in unnecessary danger.
Searching for a senior living community that is specifically designed for Memory Care residents may be the best possible solution for everyone.
Most importantly, you are not alone. Please visit this documentary following local families discussing their experiences with wandering and Alzheimer's: https://video.kcts9.org/video/2365046859/