According to alz.org, six out of ten people with dementia will wander. In the early stages of Alzheimer’s, patients start to experience some confusion, which may lead to making an occasional wrong turn during a daily walk through the neighborhood. However, as dementia advances, Alzheimer’s patients may no longer remember their address and often do not even remember their name. They may think of a street they grew up on long ago and believe they are walking towards their former working place or may have a specific destination in mind which does not line up with reality. Before you know it they are lost.
How to recognize warning signs:
What can you do as a caregiver? Keep a close eye on the dementia patients and recognize these warning signs:
- They talk about “going home” even though they are at home, or may say they are going “to work” although they retired long ago.
- They mention going to visit a family member or friend “up the block” even though the family member is in a different town.
- They go out for a short walk but return home much later than usual.
- They talk about, or start packing a bag to go on vacation.
- They look confused about which way to go when they are just a few yards away from home.
Follow safety precautions:
Even when the dementia patient is under the care of an efficient caregiver, wandering can still happen. It’s critical to ensure the safety of your loved ones at this frail point of their lives. Consider taking the following precautions.
- Install a device that signals when a door opens, whether it is a simple bell above the door or an alarm system.
- Do not leave a dementia patient home alone or unsupervised for long periods of time.
- Do not leave car keys in an accessible place. They will likely forget that they should no longer drive. If they do still drive, make sure the car has a GPS that is programmed to go home.
- Purchase a medical alert device that they can wear around their neck and remind them daily to press it if they are lost or need assistance.
- Create a schedule with a daily plan to provide structure to their day. Plan everything well in advance and mention the plans often to reduce anxiety about any change in schedule.
- If they feel lost or disoriented, kindly and patiently reassure them. Don’t correct them about where they are or where they are going. Instead, keep them calm and secure.
- Make sure all basic needs are taken care of. They may not remember to tell you they are hungry or need to use the bathroom before leaving the house. Remind them to bring a hat when going out for a walk on a sunny day or a sweater when going for walks in the evening.
Above all, remember to be patient and kind, no matter how frustrating it is to repeat yourself. The Alzheimer’s patient may not fully grasp the situation they are in, but they will appreciate the loving manner with which you treat them.
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