Because of symptoms like wandering, keeping a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia at home can seem challenging or downright impossible. It’s one of the main reasons why families choose to move their loved one into a memory care facility.
But there are ways for seniors who wander to remain safe in the familiarity of home for a longer period of time. Following, from Home Instead, Inc., franchisor of the Home Instead Senior Care® network, and the Alzheimer’s Association, are tips to help families balance independence and safety at home.
Make a plan early. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, everyone who has Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia is at risk of wandering. “As long as that person is mobile, wandering can happen at any time – not just on foot, but in a vehicle or even in a wheelchair,” said Monica Moreno, director of Early-Stage Initiatives for the Alzheimer’s Association. “Be proactive rather than reactive, and make a plan before a wandering incident occurs.”
Safeguard the home and know your environment. Prepare the home to ensure your loved one is safe. Know your neighborhood. Are there lakes, wooded areas or shopping malls that could attract an interested senior? What has the individual been talking about? Was there a mention of wanting to visit someone or some place? Keep a list of the places where someone may wander.
Protect your loved one. Make sure the individual is wearing identification at all times. Keep handy an updated photo of your loved one and a current medication list. Consider the fee-based MediAlert® + Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return® Program. Individuals who enroll wear an ID bracelet to help authorities identify them in the event they wander or have a medical emergency.
Be prepared if a loved one becomes lost. Register with the free Missing Senior Network℠ program. This free web service will help family caregivers create a list of contacts they can alert should their loved one go missing. The service enables caregivers to notify their network of friends, family and businesses in the event a loved one become lost.
Journal to help identify and avoid triggers. Try to find out if Dad’s walking has a purpose. Does he tend to wander after a meal? Perhaps he is wandering trying to find a bathroom, but can’t remember where it is. If that’s the case, direct Dad to the bathroom following each meal.
Combat anxiety, agitation and restlessness with reassurance and diversions. The more anxious a loved one becomes, the more likely he or she could be headed out the door. During those times, provide activities that can help divert and entertain. Also help reassure the person that they are safe and that everything is OK.
Avoid overstimulation. Too much activity or noise could trigger a “flight” reaction. Avoid large, noisy gatherings or crowded places.
Educate others. Tell as many people as possible about the disease – from trusted neighbors to shop owners to the staffs of restaurants where your loved one likes to eat – so they are aware. Encourage business owners to learn more about the disease by taking the free Alzheimer’s Friendly Business® online training.
Ensure constant supervision. As the disease progresses, your loved one may need constant supervision to remain at home. This is not something you should try to do alone for extended periods. Contact your local Alzheimer’s Association chapter at 800-272-3900 and Home Instead Senior Care office at HomeInstead.com to learn more about the resources available to keep your loved at home for as long as possible.
Take care of yourself and get help. You’ve heard it before, but it’s true: You can’t be a good caregiver unless you first take care of yourself. Keep up-to-date on medical check-ups and get respite help.