The behavioral symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease – such as wandering – can be overwhelming for family caregivers.
Caring for an individual with a dementia illness such as Alzheimer’s disease is among the most stressful of caregiving situations. Many caregivers lose sleep because they are afraid of what will happen to their loved one who is left unattended. Others give up their jobs and social circles because they fear leaving a family member at home alone.
“Caregivers don’t have time to do a lot of extra things when they are caring for someone with a dementia illness such as Alzheimer’s disease,” noted Monica Moreno, director of Early-Stage Initiatives for the Alzheimer’s Association. “It can be extremely helpful to families if the professional acts as a conduit to put a plan in place.”
Begin by opening the door to the issue for wandering, Moreno advises. “Discuss the issue of wandering. Families may not want to talk about it. Ask them how they are doing, engage them in conversation and encourage them to be proactive.”
Following are other suggestions from the Alzheimer’s Association and Home Instead, Inc., franchisor of the Home Instead Senior Care® network:
Encourage families to make a plan early. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, everyone who has Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia is at risk for 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,” Moreno said. “Families should be proactive, rather than reactive, and make a plan before a wandering incident occurs.”
Take Steps to Protect
Consider recommending that the family sets up an alert network through the free Missing Senior Network℠ program. This free web service allows family caregivers to notify and alert their network of family, friends and businesses if their loved one becomes lost. Setting up this network in advance can help families be prepared to handle any incident of wandering.
Also, remind families of the importance of protecting an individual at risk for wandering by ensuring he or she always is wearing identification. Consider an ID bracelet, which is part of the MediAlert® + Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return® Program. This is a fee-based 24-hour nationwide emergency response service for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia. Family caregivers should also have a current photo available and ensure that person’s medication list is up-to-date in the event he or she becomes lost.
Prepare the Home
Safeguarding a home is one important preparedness step family caregivers can take. Many products exist on the market to help keep older adults safe at home. These include alarms that attach to doors and windows, covers for doorknobs that help prevent an individual from leaving home, placing locks out of eye-level view, and painting doors and door frames the same color as walls to “camouflage” exits.
Caregiver Arlene says her husband often awoke at night not knowing where he was or thinking it was time to get up. “So we put a motion detector in the bedroom,” she said. “That has worked well for me.”
Following, from Home Instead, Inc., franchisor of the Home Instead Senior Care® network, and the Alzheimer’s Association, are other tips:
Make a path in the home where it is safe for an individual to wander. Closing off certain parts of a room or locking doors can help achieve this goal. Such paths also can be created outdoors – in a garden, for instance.
One family caregiver remembers her husband getting outdoors in the middle of the night in the dead of winter. “A fence kept him from wandering from home so he came into the garage. He was banging on the door at 5 a.m., which woke me up. If he had gotten out of the yard, he would possibly have died from the cold.” Install barriers and fences in the yard to help ensure that a loved one doesn’t wander from home or into unsafe territory.
Keep walkways well-lit. Add extra lights to entries, doorways, stairways, and areas between rooms and bathrooms. Use night lights in hallways, bedrooms and bathrooms to help prevent accidents and reduce disorientation.
Remove and disable guns or other weapons. The presence of a weapon in the home of a person with dementia may lead to unexpected danger. Dementia can cause a person to mistakenly believe that a familiar caregiver is an intruder.
Place medications in a locked drawer or cabinet. To help ensure that medications are taken safely, use a pill box organizer or keep a daily list and check off each medication as it is taken. Check out Simple Meds at SimpleMeds.com for a way to help seniors manage their medications.
Remove tripping hazards. Keep floors and other surfaces clutter-free. Remove objects such as magazine racks, coffee tables and floor lamps.
For more information from the Alzheimer’s Association, visit their website. You’ll learn more about wandering and other common behaviors related to Alzheimer’s in the book “Confidence to Care”, as well as the accompanying free mobile app, which features information about common Alzheimer’s-related behaviors such as wandering.