Wandering is a common behavior among people with Alzheimer's and dementia. In fact, it is so common that many an adult day center has created “wandering tracks” in their facilities, so that their wandering residents can safely roam in a secure area to fulfill their need to keep moving. But wandering can be extremely unsafe for people with Alzheimer's and dementia. Preventing wandering can often be futile, so what are the steps you can take to keep your parents safe?
Let’s start with the two things you do not want to do to Alzheimer's or dementia patients. The first is locking your parent in a room or restraining him or her to a chair or bed. The second is providing over-the-counter sleeping aids, in the hopes it will bring calm and induce sleeping through the night. Some people take these actions because they think there is no other method for keeping parents safe, but neither works. Sleeping aids can have the opposite effect with a brain-injured person, and should only be used after consulting a doctor. Also, people with dementia realize when they are being tied down and/or locked in a room, making them extremely agitated and fearful, which is psychologically and physically abusive. So, what can you do to provide safety? Following are a few tips that should prove helpful.
Addressing the need for wandering
Constantly reassure your parent of where he or she is and that everything is fine.
Get your parent to exercise by going for walks together or enlisting a schedule of friends for walks. If the weather is bad, there’s always the mall. Your parent can even exercise while sitting in a chair, so put on some music and exercise together.
Ask your parent to “help you out” with simple tasks during the day, such as sorting through the toolbox or folding grocery bags or clothes.
Reduce your parent’s water intake several hours before bedtime to avoid the need to get up to urinate in the middle of the night, which increases the risk of a fall or wandering.
Get your parent involved in an adult day center to keep him or her active during the day. Many families report their parents improve greatly once they’ve started attending an adult day center program: they are less agitated during the day and are more likely to sleep at night, reducing the need to wander.
Observe what your parent does just before he or she begins to wander and see if you can identify a pattern. Look for the cause or behavior that triggers the wandering and try to avoid it.
Finding a parent after wandering
Get an ID bracelet with your parent’s name, your phone number, and “memory impaired” engraved on it. You can purchase these through MedicAlert. Visit their website at medicalert.org
Give your parent a card with your phone number on it, so he or she can call you if lost.
Alert the local police and give them a photo of your parent; contact any local store that he or she would likely go to.
Install sensors for safety that trigger an alarm if your parent is leaving the house, or use childproof devices to prevent him or her from opening the outside door.